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From the Bird’s Nest: All Things Considered, I’d Rather Be Bowling

I remember when the football program at the University of Louisiana was really struggling.  Those really tough years were between 1997 and 2004.  The high water mark during that time was four wins (’03-’04).

And, I remember, during that time, the calls into our radio show.

” Why don’t the Cajuns just move back down to 1-AA.”

There were many who erroneously identified those callers as Cajuns fans.  They weren’t.  Cajuns fans really wouldn’t have suggested that.  Not real fans, anyway.  Those callers had allegiances to other schools and of course, they knew what was best for the U(S)L football program.  Besides, the Cajuns were never a member of 1-AA (now FCS) and never will be.

And, I remember making the comment, more than once.  And, I meant it.

“I would rather go 0-11 (at the time) as a member of 1-A than be a member of 1-AA and win the national championship.”

Evidently, there are many other schools who feel the same way.  Since 1983, there have been nearly 40 teams who have made their transition to the FBS.  None of them have played for the National Championship in the BCS.  There’s a good chance none of them ever will.  Yet, they all want to be a part of football at the highest level.

One school, Wichita State moved from 1-A to 1-AA.  Then they dropped football.

This week has been a manifestation of the philosophy of the UL administration and fans.

There are many who want a playoff system to decide a champion in the FBS.  Many advocate a “plus-one” format, which could very well be adopted by 2014.  Others want eight teams.  Some want sixteen.

But I gotta tell ya, after spending just one day in New Orleans getting ready for the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl Saturday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, I don’t ever want to see the bowl system totally go away.

Louisiana football coach Mark Hudspeth has seen the college football postseason from both angles.  He was the head coach at Division II North Alabama for eight years before spending two seasons at Mississippi State.  And, for him, the choice is an easy one.

“One year we were 14-0.  Played in the national semifinals and got beat.  I’m telling you, you can’t even enjoy the accomplishment of 14-0 if you don’t win it all.  And, each week was just like every other week of the season.  You’d win, take a night to enjoy it and then prepare for the next game.  A bowl is a celebration.  And, if you’ve had some success during the season, you deserve a chance to celebrate.”

This year in the FCS, Sam Houston State of the Southland Conference is in the same boat as Hudspeth’s North Alabama team.  They’ve had a perfect regular season and this week play Montana in the national semi-finals.  As the #1 seed, SHSU has played all of its playoff games at home.  If they win this week, they’ll play for the national title and will have to leave home.

And, go all the way to Frisco, Texas for the title game, where about 10,000 fans will be on hand.  Their players are simply getting ready for the next game.  Now, if they win it all, it will be a great accomplishment.  But if they don’t, it will simply be a loss and the end of the season will come with a thud.  Merry Christmas.

I’ve only been in New Orleans for about a day.  But I’ve had a chance to talk to some of the players.  I’ve talked to some of the administration.  Last night at the Mark Hudspeth Radio Show at Walk-Ons in New Orleans, I visited with lots of fans wearing red.  And, just that little time confirmed what I’ve always believed.

There’s nothing like the bowl experience.

The team gets extra weeks of practice, which is like getting an extra spring.  During that time, lots of younger players got extra reps, which will only help the future for this football program.  The team has gotten to go places and do things:  an evening at the famous “Rock-N-Bowl”…a trip to the D-Day Museum…..spending time with underprivileged kids at the Audobon Zoo….bringing good cheer to sick kids at the Children’s Hospital.

They’ve gotten to practice where a Super Bowl Champion plays.  And, Saturday night, they’ll play on that same field with their team logo in the end zone.  Who plays at that stadium in Frisco?  They’ve gotten a great gift, a Samsung Galaxy Tablet, which is the android version of the iPad.  Today, five players who have completed their degree requirements will walk across a makeshift stage at the team hotel in cap and gown and receive their degrees before family, friends and fans.

You don’t get any of that by being in a playoff.

There will be some who are entrenched in lower divisions who will call this bowl game “meaningless.”  It’s one that starts the bowl season, the payout isn’t for millions of dollars and no championship or national ranking will be achieved.  Those folks need to get out more.

Because the bowl experience is really unlike anything else in college sports.  Yes, there’s a game to play.  And, yes, the team that loses will feel a little empty.  But when the emptiness of a loss leaves, the memory of the event will last a lifetime.  And, the memories will be good.

Tomorrow night there will be competition on the gridiron.  One team will walk away with a trophy signifying their championship in the bowl game.  The other will be disappointed.  But when all is said and done, everyone will win.

The experience, the celebration of accomplishment, the collection of fans who spent several days enjoying the moment make for a winning situation for everyone involved.

You just can’t get that with a playoff.

I’ve never had to experience 0-11 (although I did try 1-10.  Wasn’t much fun.) but I’m as sure of my statement way back when as I’ve ever been.

I’d much rather be here.

Babes

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