Almanack: Money talks in a game of Bowls

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The Independent Online
READERS familiar with sport across the Atlantic will need no reminding that Super Bowl XXVIII takes place at the end of this month. But only genuine gridiron buffs will have been excited by the Sugar Bowl, the Rose Bowl and the Orange Bowl - not to mention the Outback Steak House Gator Bowl - which have been the cause of much debate in the United States this weekend.

The 19 'Bowl' games, concluding with the Orange Bowl last night, are supposed to determine the top teams in US college football. But too many Bowls mean too many winners - and too many unanswered questions. Which are the Bowls that matter? And who are the top teams? 'You've just asked the question that all America wants answered,' says John Harrison, the Atlanta-based football producer for Cheerleader Productions. 'It all comes down to money,' he explains. 'The Bowls that matter are the ones with the most money: the Rose, the Sugar, the Cotton and the Orange.' The protagonists in the Orange Bowl, Nebraska and Florida State, received the most: dollars 5m each.

So the Orange Bowl winner is the top college team in the country, right? 'Well, maybe,' Harrison ponders. 'The problem is, what if they tie? Then you'd have to consider Auburn, they're unbeaten, and Notre Dame, they beat Florida State.' So why don't they have play-offs, as in the NFL - and indeed in other college sports?

'It's the money again,' he adds. 'Corporate sponsorship of the Bowls is massive.' Doing away with the traditional Bowl games could cost the colleges a bundle. Not for the first time, American sports fans are losing out to the power of the dollar. As John Harrison says: 'The NCAA - the administrators of college sport - are caught between a rock and a hard place.'