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National college football

Bowls may need a lid

Mediocre teams being rewarded

BC coach Frank Spaziani (right, with former USC coach Pete Carroll at last year’s Emerald Bowl), is in favor of playing as many games as possible — but is that really a good idea? BC coach Frank Spaziani (right, with former USC coach Pete Carroll at last year’s Emerald Bowl), is in favor of playing as many games as possible — but is that really a good idea? (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / October 1, 2010

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When Notre Dame meets Boston College tomorrow night, no national ranking or BCS bowl berth will be at stake. Certainly no national championship is on the line.

The Irish are 1-3, and Brian Kelly is their third coach in six seasons.

BC is 2-1, is coming off a 19-0 loss to Virginia Tech, is making a change at quarterback, and must go on the road for the next two weeks. The upside could still be very good for Frank Spaziani’s Eagles, but they could be looking at 2-4 if they do not win tomorrow night.

But in terms of a postseason bowl game, the loser of tomorrow night’s game is still in pretty good shape. Make that very good shape.

College football continues to reward mediocrity with the current bowl system — which, according to those opposed to any kind of playoff system, must be preserved.

In case you haven’t checked, we have 35 bowl games on the schedule for this season, ranging from the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 18 (Mountain West vs. WAC) to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Jan. 9 (Pac 10 vs. WAC).

That means there are 70 spots for the 119 bowl-eligible schools. According to NCAA rules, a team must have at least a .500 record to participate in a bowl game.

A year ago, with 34 bowl games, only 71 teams were eligible for the 68 slots.

We have heard the spiel about why teams go to bowl games, about using them as recruiting tools. Certainly, BC uses them. The BC administration proudly points out that the Eagles have played in bowl games every year since 1999. And only once in that stretch (2000) did they need to win their bowl game to finish above .500.

Although it’s only a month into the season, you can already project that as many as 20 teams from the eligible group (USC is on probation) will be out of the .500 mix by Halloween.

Go a little further, and it is not hard to imagine the lower-tier bowls scrambling to fill slots. In fact, an NCAA committee chaired by Big East associate commissioner Nick Carparelli Jr. is looking into changing the rules, possibly letting teams with losing records play in the postseason.

That already can happen in the NCAA basketball tournament, if a lower-tier team puts together a miracle run and wins its conference tournament.

“The committee has begun to discuss the situation and has a host of options if the circumstances arise,’’ said Carparelli.

Football is a different breed, though, and it is hard to fathom what the lure would be for teams that have not won even half their games to practice another three weeks in December and then play a game in, say, Albuquerque or Detroit.

From a coaching standpoint, there is no mystery. Another game means more practice time, more evaluation opportunities for the following season.

Spaziani’s opinion on playing in bowls is unambiguous.

“I used to feel that way, where it was a reward,’’ he said. “But you want kids competing. I think it’s good because young guys need to play games and get more practice. I say let’s play a bowl game and then let’s play another.’’

Money is not a major factor, because other than the big BCS payouts, most schools break even at best when you factor in ticket guarantees and travel expenses.

Although the Atlantic Coast Conference has a revenue-sharing system for bowls, the bottom line for individual games is likely to be more in the red than the black. Still, Spaziani’s view prevails among the coaches.

Tomorrow night’s game will be a launching pad for the winner, perhaps a springboard to a more prestigious postseason game. BC can still make it to a BCS slot in the Orange Bowl, and if Notre Dame ends up winning nine games, it could be in the BCS mix as well.

But the difference this year is that there are more rewards for mediocrity than ever, and that doesn’t seem right, no matter how many more practice days or trips to bowl venues are generated.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.

Globe Top 10

1. Alabama

2. Ohio State

3. Boise State

4. Oregon State

5. Nebraska

6. TCU

7. Oklahoma

8. Florida

9. Wisconsin

10. Stanford