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Bowls and more bowls

    Those poor folks in Montana.
    Almost every other state has a piece of college football's ever expanding postseason. Even the Canadians found a way to get in on the fun with the International Bowl in Toronto. Yet big, ol' Montana exists without so much as a bowl to call its own.
    So let's fix that. The number of bowl games is already bordering on the ridiculous, what's the harm in piling on a few more?
    Let's see, 32 bowls. Make it an even 50. That way no Division I-A school that achieved mediocrity will be overlooked, and there will be a bowl game every weekend until spring practice.
    Boise, Detroit and Nashville? Let's see them line up in Missoula, Montpelier and Sioux Falls next year. If there's a town with a stadium, interest and a couple of bucks to spare, stick a bowl game there.
    Alums everywhere can discover the pleasure of digging out their old sweatshirts and piling the kids in the car for a glorious road trip to watch their alma mater take on an equally nondescript 6-6 foe.
    "Our focus really is the reward for the student-athletes," said Chris Turner, senior director of programming and events at ESPN Regional Television, which runs, among others, Saturday's PapaJohn's.com Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.
    "The players that are here, they worked their tails off, no different than the Ohio State and Florida guys have. We're in the business to provide an experience, a reward."
    Apparently, scholarships and college educations are no longer enough.
    This year's bowl bonanza meant that almost 54 percent of the 119 teams playing Division I-A had somewhere to go for the holidays. Teams don't have to be good to go bowling, either. Seven of the 64 teams plodded into the postseason at 6-6. Iowa lost its last three games and still got a trip to San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl. Miami made it despite losing four of its last five — though it does have to play in something called the MPC Computers Bowl.
    While those kind of rewards will warm the hearts of C students everywhere, it doesn't say much for the bowl games' standards. Speaking of standards, how about that Independence Bowl? With not one, but two 6-6 teams, it should be called the Slacker Bowl.
    It would be one thing if all these bowls were being ranked and ordered into some sort of playoff system to determine a true national champion. But that would make too much sense.
    It's obvious we're well past the days when you could count the number of bowl games on a couple of hands. In many ways, that's a good thing.
    Conferences no longer limit their participation to one school and keep everybody else home, no matter how good their records, as the Big Ten once did. Notre Dame not only accepts invites, it graces lower-tier bowls with its presence.
    Smaller schools that once played in near-oblivion get exposure well beyond their own conferences. The number of neon polyester jackets has been diluted.
    Bowls can be a boon for the host cities, too. Places like Pasadena and Miami don't need much help attracting tourists. But Detroit isn't exactly a destination spot this time of year.
    Even so, you can bet there will be a few thousand happy Middle Tennessee fans wandering the streets before next week's Motor City Bowl, spreading their school spirit — and cold, hard cash. In Birmingham, officials estimated the bowl game could generate as much as $4 million.
    And you can be sure the networks are getting something out of all this, too. ESPN Regional Television isn't running the Armed Forces, New Mexico and Las Vegas bowls just for fun.
    Instead of trying to lure viewers away from the NFL and last-minute shopping Saturday with a rerun of last year's log rolling championships, ESPN got a full day of decent programming with three bowl games. New Mexico-San Jose State may not be as exciting as Florida-Ohio State, but plenty of people probably still watched it.
    "Year in and year out, live college football continues to rate like never before," Turner said. "(The bowls) provide live programming at a time when the viewing public is hungry for it."
    Enough, though.
    The NCAA and its bowl certification committee are supposed to keep an eye on the postseason so it doesn't get oversaturated. Maybe what they should be examining is their definition of what that word really means.

    Nancy Armour is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to her at narmour@ap.org

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