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I'm thrilled every year when Christmas is over.

Not because I'm a Grinch, but because I love college football and the bowl games don't start until after Christmas.

About which, some observations on this year's bowl season:

• That there really is such a thing as too much of a good thing, including too many bowl games.

"Going bowling" isn't much to celebrate when far more teams get to than don't. Getting a bowl bid is now about as difficult as passing your driver's test; beat up on a few preconference sisters of the poor and then win three conference games, and you're in.

A prime example is my own University of Illinois Fighting Illini, who didn't demonstrate much fight when they lost their last game at home to a 2-9 Northwestern team by 19 points. They finished 6-6 but still ended up playing (and losing) in something called the Redbox Bowl.

Bowl money matters, but it would still be refreshing for some eligible but mediocre teams to say "No thanks, we don't deserve it."

Besides, do you really want to brag to the grandkids about having played in the Cheez-It or Gasparilla Bowl?

• That the College Football Playoff Selection Committee has generally gotten it right with their selections since the system was established, with this year's the most clear-cut thus far.

LSU, Ohio State, and Clemson, undefeated champions of power-five conferences, were obvious choices for the top three seeds, and Oklahoma was an easy No. 4 given how the conference championship games played out. There wasn't a single team left out that had a legitimate gripe this time around, an outcome which might have the effect of reducing some of the momentum for expanding the playoff field to eight (which is still a good idea, nonetheless).

• That the most valid complaint concerned not the teams chosen but the seeding at the top, after Ohio State was dropped from No. 1 to No. 2 in favor of LSU despite defeating a good Wisconsin team by double digits in their conference title game.

It might not have mattered much most seasons, but this year that 1-2 switch left the Buckeyes to play the team nobody wanted to face, defending champion Clemson, instead of getting the weak horse (Oklahoma).

LSU went on to crush the Sooners while Ohio State lost a close one to Clemson.

• That it is disturbing to see healthy players with NFL draft prospects choose to sit out their team's bowl games.

One sympathizes with the logic behind those decisions, as careers can be ruined by injury in bowls with silly names that shouldn't even exist (and everyone remembers what happened to Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith a few years back), but loyalty to school and team should also count for something.

To sit on the sidelines when you're perfectly healthy and watch your teammates lose, perhaps because you refused to play, says something, and it isn't good.

• That no matter how many times analysts explain it, replay officials still can't seem to understand what the purpose of replay is and how it should work. The call on the field is supposed to stand unless there is "irrefutable" video evidence to indicate it was wrong.

But the replay officials all too often attempt to "re-officiate" the play, thereby undermining the logic of the system. The most egregious example in this year's playoffs came in the second half of the OSU-Clemson game when a fumble was scooped up and returned for a touchdown by an Ohio State player, only to have replay rule that it was an incomplete pass instead, despite nothing remotely resembling irrefutable evidence to justify overturning the initial call.

Taking those six points off the board was huge in a game that the Buckeyes lost by six points.

• Targeting calls have become increasingly capricious, to the point where the rule needs revision. In a majority of the cases the head-to-head contact is unintentional and in many actually caused by the player with the ball lowering his head first. As anyone who has played football knows, it is human instinct to "get small" when you're about to be hit or when hitting (tackling), making helmet-to-helmet plays almost impossible to avoid.

A solution would be to differentiate between the unintentional helmet-to-helmet contact and the more blatant, intentional kind -- in the LSU-Oklahoma game, an Oklahoma safety delivered a brutal shot to the head of an LSU player; in the OSU-Clemson game an Ohio State player incidentally initiated helmet-to-helmet contact while sacking Clemson's quarterback, who had ducked his head first. In the former case ejection was warranted; in the latter it wasn't.

So create a rule distinction for targeting similar to that for vulnerable punters, where there is "running into" and "roughing," with appropriately heavier punishment for the "roughing" sort.

Rules have to be perceived as fair in sports, with the severity of punishments fitting the severity of offenses. And no one should be ejected from a game for something that was unintended.

• Finally, the championship prediction: Clemson over LSU, 35-31. Because betting against Dabo Swinny in the college football playoffs is getting to be like betting against Bill Belichick in the NFL playoffs.

Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

Editorial on 01/06/2020

Print Headline: End of a season

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