I recently was engaged in a friendly Facebook debate about Oklahoma’s bowl/playoff berth and it really served as a reminder of the huge chasm that exists in college football between the haves and have-nots and the attitudes of their fans. It’s like the difference between first-world and third-world nations, but within the same borders.
Shortly after OU’s defeat of Texas, Sooner fans began politicking for a berth as one of the four teams in the cartel-controlled playoff. To be honest, it was rather amusing to see Sooners fans pushing hard for the honor of being rolled by Bama. By the end of the day, though, it appeared pretty much guaranteed OU would be the No. 4 team in what UCF head coach Josh Heupel correctly identified as an “invitational” as opposed to a legitimate playoff.
When Alabama completed its comeback over Georgia it was clear OU was going to be the choice to fill out the “playoff” bracket no matter what Ohio State did in the Big 10 title game against a lackluster Northwestern squad.
The only question really was whether Georgia would sneak in ahead of OU and boy did that have Sooners fans getting their backs up, demanding a spot in the playoffs, unable to fathom that anybody could possibly not realize a spot in the Cartel Football Playoff was theirs by mere manifest destiny.
Let’s face it, OU fans have become spoiled by their success. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that, but it seems such success breeds more consternation than contentment with anger and anxiety brewing right up until the official announcement was made. The angst some Sooners fans were putting themselves through was amusing. Not satisfied with just, oh say, a Sugar Bowl berth, many OU folks would have had to have had sharp objectives removed from within their reach with anything less than a playoff berth.
Talk about first-world problems.
Then we have the other end of the spectrum, the third-world of FBS college football, sneeringly referred to as the “Group of Five,” consisting of members of the less fortunate five conferences shut out by the overseers, otherwise known as the “Power 5” conferences.
But while there is frustration among the fanbase of many G5 schools, there appears to be a different level of joy. While P5 school fans fret over their perceived rightful place in the Cartel, fans of G5 schools, while not satisfied necessarily with being on the outside looking in, have not lost perspective that a bowl game is a reward.
Take my rooting interest, Eastern Michigan, of the Mid-American Conference. While some decry the proliferation of bowls, old-timers like myself recall the bad old days when the MAC champion, even one that went 10-1, was shut out of the bowl picture completely. Now, that has changed. The MAC has five bowl tie-ins, but this year had seven bowl eligible teams. However, with 82 bowl eligible teams for 78 slots in 39 bowl games, somebody was going to be left out.
Schools like Eastern Michigan, which finished 7-5, know nothing is guaranteed for them. Unlike OU for instance. So, EMU engaged in a clever social media campaign that went viral with players in a video lip-synching to Destiny Child’s “Say My Name” hoping a bowl would pick EMU.
It worked, or at least it may have helped. The Eagles were selected to play Georgia Southern in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., on Dec. 15. They were one of six MAC schools selected, with 6-6 Miami (Ohio) the odd man out.
Big deal, OU fans may say. But that’s the point. While EMU fans waited with just as much anticipation for the announcement this past Sunday, there was a sense Eagles fans were more elated with EMU’s selection and why not? It’s EMU’s first U.S. bowl appearance since the 1987 California Bowl, but second in the past three years, having been to the Bahamas Bowl in 2016.
EMU fans were used to being left out. Three decades of losing has that effect.
Still, one almost felt sad for the Sooners fans, many of whom seem to have lost the perspective that comes with receiving a bowl bid. So much teeth-gnashing over whether OU would be seated as one of the Gang of 4 followed by deep exhales of relief rather than happiness.
Don’t get the wrong idea. The system is a mess, proof being how a UCF team that has gone undefeated for two straight seasons, including a bowl win over Auburn, cannot even get a sniff at a playoff spot. But being a member of the G5 gives one a nice perspective and it’s more fan friendly.
I will be at the Camellia Bowl with a pair of easily affordable $30 reserved seats and a $20 reserved parking pass. That’s right, for less than $100, my wife and I will have prime seats and parking. Fans of EMU and Georgia Southern can actually afford the game without having to place a mortgage on their first born.
Compare that to the three-digit and aftermarket four-digit ticket prices for an Orange Bowl ticket between Alabama and OU, a price level that shuts out most OU fans who live and die with the Crimson and Cream.
In the end, whose fans are really being served?
Ruthenberg is sports editor for the News & Eagle. Contact him at [email protected].