Rich Tucker

Sports fans have long wondered if there’s anything as meaningless as the NHL pre-and regular seasons. Thirty teams play 82 games, but end up eliminating only about half the field. Then 16 teams enter a playoff system that determines the real champion.

But at least the NHL’s most important games come at the end of the year, when an actual champion is crowned after a series of playoff rounds. Ironically, this year the NHL helped highlight the only sport that gets things backward, and piles many of its least meaningful games at the end of its season. College football.

New Year’s Day has belonged to college bowl games since the dawn of time, or at least the dawn of television. Was there life before televised sports?

For years the bowls actually competed against each other for our eyeballs. There would be two, three, even four games on different networks at the same time. If one game was a blowout, you could flip to a more interesting contest.

That’s still the case in the early hours of the day. Big Ten fans who were tired of watching Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State lose could always flip over to ABC and watch Penn State lose (in what was, for awhile at least, a bit of a contest). But by 5 P.M. the competition between games was finished and the Bowl Championship Series took over.

Here’s where hockey comes in. On the night of New Year’s Day, the NHL’s annual outdoor hockey game was a much better viewing option than the BCS Fiesta Bowl, which pitted an overmatched Connecticut against a bored Oklahoma. The Sooners would probably have preferred to be carving up yet another patsy from the Big Ten.

The Fiesta probably didn’t care that its matchup was a dog (and not a UConn Husky, either). After all, it had no football competition. And that’s by design.

Over 10 days, the “big” bowl games roll out one by one. Instead of competing with each other the Rose, Fiesta, Orange, Sugar and Cotton (not a BCS member, but a kissing cousin) Bowls take turns matching teams with no hope of winning a title in essentially meaningless games.

After all that, the BCS will indeed match up number one Auburn and number two Oregon, on Jan. 10. So that’s a success, of sorts. Unless, of course, you’re a fan of undefeated and untied TCU, which won the Rose Bowl this year but isn’t in the championship picture.

Still, the BCS’ failures in past years, such as the season USC was voted number one by the Associated Press but didn’t get to play for the national title, overwhelm any arguments in favor of keeping it. Competition for the top teams would be a better response.

Rich Tucker

Rich Tucker is a communications professional and a columnist for