Everyone knows that college football is a mess these days. Well, make that everyone other than the people running college football, who, for some odd reason, prefer to keep things as simple as calculus.

I bring this up after watching all or part, and sometimes none, of a dozen bowl games that were played on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. These were preceded, of course, by 15 earlier bowl games, including two that Utah and BYU played in (and won), and will be succeeded by yet five more bowl games, none of which have anything to do with next Monday's Bowl Championship Series national title game in New Orleans.

That's 32 bowl games if you're keeping score at home. The 64 teams involved, interestingly enough, matches the number of teams that qualify for the college basketball national tournament, minus the one that gets in via the play-in game.

If college football lived in a perfect world, like college basketball, the 32 bowl game winners would move on to play again and within five weeks a national champion would be decided strictly by elimination.

But college football doesn't live in a perfect world and, besides that, this is old news. Although there is, and has been for some time, a general public outcry that the national champion should be decided on the field, it has never happened and presumably never will because traditions are so hard to kill in American sports — no matter how tenuous their beginnings.

The truth is, the bowl system began in such resounding failure that it's surprising the idea was ever tried again.

It all dates back to Jan. 1, 1902, when the forerunner to today's bowl games was played in Pasadena, Calif.

The football contest was an outgrowth of a successful New Year's Day parade and festival in Pasadena called the Tournament Of Roses that began in 1890.

The game was called the Tournament East-West Football Game and pitted Michigan from the east (by California perspective, at least) and Stanford from the west.

Michigan was 10-0 and had outscored its opponents 501-0. Stanford, on the other hand, was a mere 3-1-2.

Michigan was leading 49-0 halfway through the second half when Stanford conceded and went home.

And that was that for football as far as the parade people were concerned.

In 1903 the Tournament of Roses featured a polo match. From 1904 to 1915 they held chariot races.

Finally, in 1916, football was given a second chance. This time, the team from the west, Washington State, beat the team from the east, Brown, 14-0, both teams were still on the field at the finish, and the game has been played every year since.

In 1923, when a huge bowl-shaped stadium was opened in Pasadena, they named it — and the annual New Year's Day game played in it — the Rose Bowl.

In the 1930s the Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl and Sun Bowl joined the bowl lineup. Many games have followed down through the years — some of which are not played in bowl-shaped stadiums — getting us to the weird state of affairs college football is in today.

But like it or hate it, it does get a person through the holidays.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.