NEW ORLEANS — The moment was about as stilted as it could get, though Les Miles and Nick Saban certainly knew the routine. They posed stiffly for the photographers, smiles fixed on their faces and the BCS trophy between them, even though everyone in the room except the BCS bigwigs who crowded into the photo op knew they would both rather be somewhere — make that anywhere — else.
The title game between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama was little more than a day away, 32 hours as Miles kept reminding everyone, yet there was still work to be done. There always is for football coaches and, mercifully enough, the last public appearance before the game by the two coaching heavyweights was finally over.
Mercifully enough, soon the college football season will be, too.
It comes to an end in a dome just a short drive down Interstate 10 from Baton Rouge, making it almost a home game for the team almost everyone outside Alabama believes is the best in the country. It comes to an end in a yet another game between two SEC heavyweights, the third time in 14 months that LSU and Alabama have played each other.
That it may not end with a clear national champion isn't surprising because the system is deeply flawed. Always will be until a team like Oklahoma State or even Boise State has a chance to battle its way through a playoff to get into the title game.
The people who run the BCS will tell you otherwise, arguing that the cartel has done more to elevate the college game than Knute Rockne ever did while prowling the sidelines at Notre Dame. They claim interest in the postseason has never been higher, even while they match teams like West Virginia and Clemson and run a system that makes the BCS title game little more than a second SEC championship game.
Fans, though, seem to be catching on.
They're tired of a bloated bowl season, fed up with mismatches dictated not by records but by conference affiliation. They're voting against the BCS series the only way they know how — by staying home and watching something else on television.
Bowl attendance was down this season, and that's not the biggest story. The Rose Bowl had its lowest television ratings in history, Orange Bowl ratings dropped 37 percent from last year, and Sugar Bowl viewership was almost nonexistent. Even the Fiesta Bowl — won by Oklahoma State over Stanford in an overtime thriller — was the third-least viewed of the past decade.
And to cap it all off we get a title game that feels so yesterday. Not only are LSU and Alabama in the same SEC division, a game between them went into overtime in November without either school scoring a touchdown. It's a little tough for fans to get excited about a rematch that requires a deep appreciation of defensive line play and the kicking game.
It's on Jan. 9 to boot, long after New Year's hangovers are forgotten, and — more importantly — after the NFL playoffs have already begun. The biggest show in college football wasn't even the biggest show in town over an extended weekend, when it seemed every other person was wearing a Drew Brees jersey and the Superdome was rocking as the Saints beat Detroit to open the playoffs.
Maybe that's why Miles felt the need to hype the game just a bit before posing for photographers.
"I expect it to be big-boy football," the LSU coach said. "It will be a game representative of two quality football teams."
That's a given, considering these are the two best teams in the best football conference there is. This will be the sixth time in a row a SEC team has won the BCS title game, leading some to joke that the only way an SEC team will lose the title game is to play another SEC team.
Not hard to see why. The SEC has $5 million a year coaches, and programs that bring in $100 million a year. It has football traditions that run deep into the fabric of society throughout the South, and it has its way whenever decisions are made in the BCS cartel.
It also has athletes that other conferences can only dream about, linebackers with speed who are the size of defensive ends on other teams.
"I feel like the players are a little bit more versatile and athletic," said Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who is one of those players. "We don't find too many guys that weigh 260 pounds that can run a 4.6 or 4.5 in any other conference or a guy that weighs 200 pounds that can bench press 500."
Whether that translates into a good football game remains to be seen. Unlike last year, there's no Cam Newton, no LaMichael James to stir offensive excitement. The quarterbacks on both sides are suspect, and the fact both teams know each other so well could limit the offense even more.
In an era of spread offenses and teams scoring 62 points in a game, this figures to be a throwback to the hard-nosed defenses of earlier times. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does tend to turn off the casual fan who tunes in to see touchdown celebrations.
Don't blame Alabama or LSU for that. They play a style, and it's main the reason they play so often in the title game.
Blame the BCS, though, for dragging the whole thing out so long that nothing about this championship game feels special.