Yo, Bubba, how 'bout that coalition?

JOHN EISENBERG

November 24, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

And now we add another cornerstone to the fabled vocabulary of college football.

In the spirit of "Golden Dome" and "Rose Bowl" and "sugar daddy" and other touchstone phrases of the game, we add a new name to send shivers down your spine: The Bubba Coalition.

OK, so it's going to take awhile to get used to the name, especially since I just made it up. But it should catch on. If the coalition doesn't blow up first, that is.

Perhaps an explanation is in order. College football looks the same this year, but it's not. There's a new political order. The people running bowl games got together and devised a plan to match the best two teams in the country as often as possible on New Year's Day, hopefully eliminating arguments about who was No. 1.

Semi-bitter competitors, the bowls formed this alliance for one reason: If they didn't, they'd be as dead as the Nehru jacket.

They just kept getting worse about jumping the November commitment date they'd agreed upon. To avoid getting stuck with a dull game lacking high-profile teams, they were making secret deals before the deadline. But the teams in the championship race kept winding up in different bowls when the inevitable late-season upsets occurred.

The result? Two teams claimed the national title in 1990 and 1991, and the call for a championship playoff was getting louder. You could almost hear Keith Jackson: "We've got a big momma of a quarterfinal today between two teams that just plain don't like each other . . ."

Enter the coalition, which includes two tiers, almost 50 teams, every major bowl except the Rose and enough if-thens for an entire semester of ninth-grade logic. It's absolutely Byzantine. Following it is like trying to read James Joyce without the Cliff Notes.

But, see, now it looks like the thing is going to hit a home run in its rookie season. Top-ranked Miami and second-ranked Alabama are headed for a championship game in the Sugar Bowl, and, if they lose before then, the coalition has contingencies. It appears there'll be one No. 1 this year.

Of course, the only way the coalition wasn't going to work was if a non-coalition team was in the race for No. 1. But Penn State, Michigan and Washington faded.

So, since the coalition is upon us and functioning as designed, it didn't seem right that it had no name. Calling it just "the bowl coalition" was too vanilla, like calling Madonna's new book "photographs of an adult." So, I formed a committee of myself to come up with a name.

The Latin Coalition seemed right because that's what the coalition guidelines read like. But then Argentina would be eligible, and that's not right.

The Coalition to Avoid a Sterile National Playoff was a possibility, but that sounded vaguely socialist, and Lou Holtz, who thinks facial hair is leftist, would blow a gasket and start running around putting headlocks on everyone.

The Rainbow Coalition already was taken.

But the Bubba Coalition -- is that perfect, or what? Many of the coalition teams are from south of the Mason-Dixon line. And this is college football, right? Chances are good that if you shout, "Yo, Bubba," in any locker room, half the players will turn around to see what you want.

Anyway, mine are among the hands applauding "the Bubba" working. I'm dead against the idea of a playoff, which would be just another neutral-field, made-for-TV, cash-cow-as-sporting-event, quashing the eccentricity and regionalism that is the essence of the game. (Ask Florida State's players whether they'd rather win a national title or beat Miami.)

But even as it works, the Bubba seems a flimsy accordance. That it relies on the arbitrary AP rankings could result in the same old arguments. This year, for instance, lightly scheduled Texas A&M could finish unbeaten and ranked below once-beaten Florida State.

You also know a Penn State or Michigan is going to foul things up one of these years. And for a while there was talk this year that Miami might find a loophole and stay home to play a lower-ranked team in the Orange Bowl, wrecking the whole idea.

The whole business just seems awfully fragile. It's a coalition of a lot of people with a lot of different agendas, which is dangerous. But it's the last chance to avoid a playoff, and I'm rooting for it.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I like college football the way it is: slightly vague, and vaguely goofy. Besides, if we're talking names, the Bubba Coalition kills the AT&T Reach Out and Touch Someone College Football National Championship Tournament of Outstanding Student-Athletes. That's your alternative.

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