Does EVERYTHING Have to be Political Nowadays?

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Yesterday was one of the more fun days of the entire calendar year, unless you had a dog in the hunt or lots of cash riding on the myriad of outcomes. Super Bowl LI (51 if your Roman numeral translator is on the fritz) featured the scrappy, underdog Atlanta Falcons versus the dastardly and favored New England Cheaters Patriots in the battle for the National Football League championship for 2016. The game itself – once again, depending on who you rooted for – was arguably one of the best in history. But what was the recurring theme that ran through pretty much everything that happened yesterday indicates a particularly troubling aspect that is occurring in our society.

I started watching about 4PM (Eastern Time), usually the time when the new Super Bowl ads start showing, but what showed up on the screen? The Resident, sitting down with Fox News “editorial commentator” (because he damn sure isn’t a journalist) Bill O’Reilly, discussing politics. Now I am pretty sure that President Barack Obama was the first president to sit down with whichever network was broadcasting the Super Bowl game – Obama, if nothing else, is a huge sports fan – and the networks, especially Fox, used that time to get political with the man in the White House. The bigger question is why did this relatively young “tradition” need to continue?

It isn’t about the politics. There are enough times that The Resident can get on television, can get on the internet or even online. There’s scant little time in today’s world when you can get a respite from the onslaught of politics. That would be proven as Super Bowl Sunday wore on.

Reports from several outlets stated that the entirety of the pre-game and halftime shows – featuring the cast members of the musical Hamilton and the outstanding entertainment prowess of six-time Grammy winner Lady Gaga, respectively – were being broadcast by Fox on a five second delay shouldn’t have surprised anyone, but it seemed that everyone was SHOCKED by this travesty. Fox, it seemed, was “violating” free speech rights of the performers by potentially editing their performances (albeit about the best they would be able to do is hit a “mute” button). This seemed to upset many, but it really shouldn’t have.

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Since the 2004 Super Bowl and “Nipplegate,” every live event has been put on a delay, in theory to allow for the producers/directors to switch cameras or to mute the audio should someone utter one of George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words.” I’ve actually watched sporting events on television where one of the players involved in the game action utters an expletive and it is muted by whichever network is broadcasting the game rather than aired (that doesn’t mean there aren’t instances it slips through). It goes back a bit further than that to 2003 when U2 singer Bono, while accepting an award at the Golden Globes for their work on the soundtrack for the film Gangs of New York, said that receiving the award was “really, really fucking brilliant.” The blood running from the ears of those whose sensitivities were violated brought about this change, it wasn’t something that came from the election of The Resident and his vociferous supporters.

What it did demonstrate is that virtually everything that goes on nowadays is being viewed through the political prism whether it is applicable or not. It isn’t a new phenomenon, either, as I can recall back to the Bill Clinton administration when an innocent online discussion about gender inequality or even minimum wage increases would normally have one idiot that would bring up the Monica Lewinsky situation or some other political hot topic and go off the rails. That is the first point where, if there were some travesty that occurred or situation that defied whatever “norms” people assigned to something that the phrase “Blame (insert President here),” happened. Since then, it’s only gotten worse.

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Talk about how changing light bulbs from incandescent to LED can save energy and money? Fucking Obama (it was actually President Bush II who signed the order in 2007 to make it law)! FEDEX has to buy more tires because the roads are bad (not the potential 100,000 miles that they put on each set in a short time span)? Government pricks! “Censoring” Lady Gaga from singing on the Super Bowl? Motherfuckers at Fox! How DARE they! An actor makes a statement in support of the current President? Racist bastard (actor Matthew McConaughey was castigated by liberals for suggesting that everyone “give The Resident a chance” despite the fact that he never endorsed him. The Neo-Nazi website Breitbart, however, all but promoted McConaughey for sainthood for “defying the Hollywood elite” despite not knowing just who the hell he is)!

While politics is something that people can believe passionately about, it isn’t and shouldn’t be interwoven into every goddamned thing that we do in our existence. There is the ability to turn on the television and simply watch a television show or a movie without it being some sort of allegorical statement about our world today. There are the chances to listen to music or read where the subject matter isn’t about one political side or the other. There is plenty of sad realities of life that occur that politics doesn’t even touch, let alone have any effect on. There are also plenty of joys that never see a political side.

The same can be applicable to people. While you may find that you like someone – maybe even love them – very much but they have a different political philosophy than you, that in no sense is a reason to get rid of them. There are plenty of areas outside of that one miniscule part of life that makes those people enjoyable for 99.5% of the time. It makes literally no sense to excommunicate someone from your circle simply because of that reason alone (the same is also true of religion and being a believer/non-believer, but that’s a discussion for another time).

Does that mean that you must listen to everyone? No, not in the least. For example, if someone believes that there were 3-5 million illegals who voted in the 2016 Presidential campaign even though EVERY SHRED OF EVIDENCE says otherwise – then it is best to not discuss political topics with that person. That STILL doesn’t mean they can’t be important to you and your life, you just choose not to share that tiny segment of the world.

Then there are those that show themselves to be so inflexible in dogma that discussion cannot move forward one iota. Those are the people that you cannot do anything about (you’re not going to change their mind). It is best to disassociate from those, even though at one time they might have been a valuable person.

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It is important to say that, if someone broaches the political issue with their commentary, then it is free game. Actor Meryl Streep was roundly castigated by the conservatives for her comments during this year’s Golden Globe awards. Likewise, singer Toby Keith was lambasted by liberals for playing The Resident’s inauguration. THOSE are situations where politics could enter the discussion, when someone is actually exercising their free speech rights, not when it is what someone MIGHT do once they hit the stage or get a microphone in front of them. It is very much a Schrödinger’s Cat paradox in that you don’t know what you’re going to get until you “look in the box” – the actual moment that a particular artistic situation presents itself.

With the above said, everyone could chill out a bit instead of injecting politics into every waking moment of our lives. We need those moments to decompress, to take time to examine instances that arise in the political spectrum and come up with thoughts that help us develop as people and perhaps as informed members of a community. To apply the political litmus test to everything in your existence sounds like a way to perpetually live in either fear or anger.

“Cutting the Cord” If Only for A Day

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I thought it would be an interesting experiment. I’ve read quite a bit lately about people who have been ditching their cable or satellite companies – “cutting the cord” as it is called – and just going with what can be found on their computer or other streaming services. For the last couple of years, I’ve owned a Roku 3 (a great Christmas gift from my lovely wife) and use it quite frequently, especially during the baseball season. As an experiment, I thought I would give it a day’s trial, just to see if I could “cut the cord” for a simple 24-hour period. You might be surprised about a couple of things that occurred.

It is something that is happening more than you think across the United States and around the world. Estimates are that as many as 10% of U. S. homes are disconnected from traditional cable or satellite service. A 2014 survey by Mike Vorhaus of Frank N. Magid Associates for a trade conference estimated that 59% of U. S. households paid for a subscription video-on-demand (VOD) service and Netflix was 43% of that group. Finally, that same survey from Vorhaus noted that, among 18-34 year olds, television as the primary medium for entertainment was down to only 21%. Two years later, imagine where those numbers are…

My experiment, however, didn’t get off to a great start. First of all, getting up in the morning and turning on the television was distinctly out. As I prepared my son’s lunch for school, I absentmindedly hit the television in the kitchen for CNN. Just as quickly, I shut it off as I reminded myself what today’s experiment was to be about. After I returned home, it was fortunate that I had some work to do and a doctor’s appointment because I wasn’t concerned about what was either on the television or what I was missing from the news. This was good and bad, in my opinion.

Being able to get your work done – especially for someone like myself who works from home – takes a great deal of discipline. Sure, part of the reason we do it is for the flexibility of the situation (my wife and I also save a great deal on child care), but to be able to look at what you have to complete from a work status and be able to achieve those goals while sitting in your abode is something that all people enjoy. The down side is that, yes, we do work from home so we can have a few extra niceties, such as the television on in the background; I especially like CNN because it isn’t something that you have to concentrate heavily on and, in the cases of “BREAKING NEWS,” it allows you to keep on top of what’s going on in the world.

After the doctor’s appointment, I tried to use one of the new features from CNN, CNNGo, which brings their live broadcast to your computer screen. As I halfway listened to the news that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was “absolutely, positively NOT” going to be the GOP’s savior at their convention in Cleveland (sure, Paul…just like you “DIDN’T WANT” the Speakership), it suddenly cut off and I brought up the window. Sure enough, I reached a situation that many do when they try to break away from their cable service.

To be able to access CNNGo (and, as I was to find out later with my son, to be able to access Disney Junior), you had to have an active cable service account. While CNNGo asked for several of the prominent carriers in the business – names such as Charter, Xfinity, DISH Network and others – they didn’t come up with mine:  Time Warner Cable. As such, I couldn’t WATCH CNNGo on my computer – and my son could not watch Disney Junior through the Roku 3 later in the day – because the companies cannot come to a financial agreement so that CNNGo or Disney Junior can be offered on the computer or Roku (you can, however, access them through the Time Warner app that is available through the Roku…figure that one out). This is one of the reasons that pisses off many with the whole “cutting the cord” thing; in reality, you’re not cutting the cord because, at the minimum, you have to at least have minimal cable service to be allowed access to certain channels, whether it is on the computer or through such a streaming device as a Roku.

Roku4After this revelation, the next problem arose as to the “break away” from the cable company. I sat back and watched, through Poker Central, some of the action from the Global Poker League on the Roku 3 during the afternoon and got a bit restless. Taking a look around, there were very few free streaming channels that you could find to actually watch any type of substantive programming (PBS is good for this and free, but fun isn’t the first thing you think of with PBS). To be able to have any selection to be able to choose from, you had to have access to something like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Hulu Plus, each of which charge a monthly fee for access.

These three are the “power brokers” in the new streaming world (“streaming” being whether you watch on your cellphone, your computer or through a device like the Roku) and could have a seismic impact on the shape of the television world in the future. They have already had an impact on programming, beginning to offer their own scripted television shows that have garnered critical acclaim (at the expense of the traditional television networks). But would people actually move to a piecemeal system like this over the traditional cable system?

Some studies suggest that the bundled channel system that cable companies use actually save customers money rather than cost them more, and there’s some evidence to suggest that they may be right. If your cable company offers a basic cable package for $20 per month (and that’s about as base as it gets in many areas, pretty much offering the local channels and a few other stations like the Weather Channel, CNN, ESPN and others), that is normally what people will watch; where people get irritated is when they have 300 channels and nothing is on. With the streaming outlets, you pay somewhere along the lines of $9 a month for Netflix or Hulu (Amazon Prime is $99 per year), but you might have to pay $4.99 for this station to get access over your streaming device and another $4.99 to access another station…it begins to mount up if you have several access points.

Then there is the factor of live sports. Pretty much every sports league has some sort of live package where you can watch every game from the league (except the National Football League; at this time, the NFL Sunday Ticket package is still the domain of DirecTV, although you can pay to be able to watch, on a tape-delayed basis, the NFL games the next day). These packages can range in cost up to $129…if you put that together for baseball, basketball, hockey and hell, let’s say the NFL comes around and does it too, it’s over $500 per year. That’s not counting any NCAA collegiate games, NASCAR, Formula 1, Indy Car, Major League Soccer, Premier League…you might be getting my point by now.

ESPN Plaza - Bristol CT

Then there’s the monolith known as ESPN. Losing money left and right nowadays (as much due to the competition from outlets like Fox Sports, the CBS Sports Network, the NBC Sports Network and insane fees to the sports leagues for broadcasting rights), ESPN has been considering taking the route of Netflix into an “a la carte” service. According to a 2015 article from The Motley Fool, 40% of people would be willing to pay $10 per month for a “Netflix” version of ESPN. The problem is, the Fool states, that ESPN would need at least $15 per month from subscribers AT THIS TIME to maintain its current standard of performance revenues. This isn’t even looking into the future, when the marketplace is further crowded and the bidding wars for rights fees for athletic events gets even more bloodthirsty.

By the time the Yankees game against the Toronto Blue Jays ended tonight on the Roku, it was time to end the “cut the cord” experiment. I had proved I could do it – there’s enough out there and there is the capability to still watch what the television networks provide, if you’re willing to wait in some cases – for at least a day, but any longer might be a stretch. Perhaps in a few years, when the streaming networks have become more like the cable companies and are actually offering “channel packages” and the cable companies have gone truly “a la carte” to allow their customers to choose ONLY the channels they want, then it would be good to try it again. Right now, I’ll dance between the two worlds quite happily – and enjoy them both immensely.

Why Do Women Put Up with Us?

I’ve thought about it before but, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve really begun to wonder in depth how the female part of the species homo sapiens puts up with the male gender. Let’s get beyond the usual stuff – leaving the toilet seat up, “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” generalities – and get down to the brass tacks. In a couple of instances of late from the news, things would be much different if there was a female mind in charge.

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Earlier this week, Fox Sports sportscaster Erin Andrews was awarded by a Tennessee jury $55 million in damages stemming from a 2008 incident with a “fan.” In that situation, the pervert reversed the peephole in Andrews’ hotel room door in Nashville, TN, and videotaped (with his cellphone) Andrews in the nude as she prepared for her broadcasting duties with her then employer ESPN. The only way the videos were ever found out about was because the asshole decided to try to sell them to TMZ, that great bastion of journalism.

Of course the perv was found and convicted, spending 27 months in jail (far too short if you ask me), but the damage was done. Andrews spent a great deal of time and money in trying to remove them from the internet – something that is virtually impossible – and eventually filed a civil lawsuit against the criminal and the hotel for their negligence (it was alleged that the hotel gave the man extensive information as to Andrews’ whereabouts in the hotel, even putting him in a nearby room to hers). After two weeks of testimony – which included a tearful Andrews recounting, over two days of testimony, how the situation still affects her today in taunts when she is on college campuses and one of the executives of the hotel actually WATCHING THE VIDEO DURING A DINNER MEETING during the trial (for which the executive vehemently apologized – afterwards) – Andrews was awarded $55 million, although she’ll probably never see a nickel of the money (and it probably wasn’t about that, at least for Andrews).

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While there is a bit of “good” (hey, there’s still a nude video of Andrews out there if you really want to find it) news in that case, another case that has come up isn’t as pleasant. The pop star Kesha’s battle against record producer Dr. Luke was resolved (temporarily) of late, with the courts barring Kesha from doing any recording without it coming from work between her and the producer, whom she claims signed her to a contract at an extremely young age under the influence of drugs. Kesha has also alleged that Dr. Luke raped her and, throughout their working relationship, continually berated her verbally, emotionally and continued the sexual abuse.

The music industry has divided itself along the natural lines, the industry bigwigs on the side of Luke and the performers on the side of Kesha. Taylor Swift (whom I normally wouldn’t give the time of day) stepped up with $250,000 to help support Kesha during a “trying time,” and other artists such as multi-Grammy Award winner Adele, Demi Lovato, Snoop Dogg, Kelly Clarkson (who stated her former management “blackmailed” her into working with Luke) and actor Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order:  SVU), herself a longtime anti-rape and domestic violence advocate, have voiced support. Lady Gaga has firmly announced her support, recounting her story of her early days in the recording industry and how she, like Kesha, was attacked by a male who was supposed to be helping her career rather than relieving one of his “tensions.”

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These are but two of the more visible cases of where men continue to subject women to degrading situations. I am positive that it happens literally millions of times per day across the United States and around the world, whether it is something as seemingly innocent as a “darlin’” when a subordinate performs a task to literally and physically raping a woman while they work with or for a male superior. It shouldn’t happen and it has to be asked why women allow it to continue?

There are, for lack of a better term, the “fantasies” of women taking over in culture and changing it through the utilization of their own powers. There is a classic Greek play called Lysistrata by the Greek playwright Aristophanes in which women, upset with the ongoing fighting in the Peloponnesian War, withhold carnal pleasures from their husbands until the fighting is stopped. It is arguable, however, that the Church put a quick kibosh on that and, over the next 2000-3000 years, women went into the shadows.

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In 1975, however, women finally took a stand, at least in one nation. In Iceland, women went on strike – that’s right, every woman, whether a traffic cop, housewife, bank clerk or mother – walking off their jobs and out of their homes. The resulting 25,000-plus women (astonishing considering the island nation’s population was only about 200,000 at that time) shut down the country and were able to win concessions from the government. The next year, equal pay laws were passed in Iceland and, in 1980, Vigdis Finnbogadottir was the world’s first elected female president and won reelection in 1988.

Here in the United States, women either do not understand the power they wield or do not want to “rock the boat” on the situation. If the female of our species were to achieve something along the lines of what the Icelandic women did, the impact on the United States – not only economically but politically, culturally and socially – would be seismic.

Instead of only a handful of women being in elected seats of power in Washington, D. C., it is extremely possible that MORE women would be elected to those positions, maybe even a majority of the positions. Businesses would be led by strong, smart ladies who would be led by doing the right thing rather than JUST what the bottom line says. And perhaps we would show more consideration for our fellow persons, as it really does seem that the males of this species don’t really give a fuck beyond their own skin casing as to what others do.

But is it impossible for U. S. women to pull off what the Icelandic ladies did? U. S. women are a diverse lot – more so than the homogenous nation of Iceland – and perhaps they would have the same troubles that men have in this country of deciding a course of action. I would have hope, though, that they would have a better nature than the male gender does and would be able to work through situations rather than compare dick sizes.

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Trust me, I’m not advocating for a Diana Prince/Wonder Woman-like home of Themicyra here. We all have to work together on this traveling roadshow called Planet Earth. But a little more equality between the two genders – achieved through a Ladies’ Strike – would be able to bring us a bit closer to refining the country into the best version it can be – and isn’t that what we’re looking for the United States to be?

So here’s my challenge…Ladies! Time to stop what you’re doing! Moms, put the kids down! Make Dad take care of them for a day. Teachers, cops, mayors, professors, physicians, psychiatrists, astronomers to zoologists…plan one day for the “U. S. Women’s March and Strike,” bring the country to a standstill, march on your state’s capitals and bring about the change that is necessary for the country. Women have and have always had the power…it is time that power is demonstrated, much like your sisters did in Iceland more than 40 years ago. It’s time for women to truly step to the fore!

The Insanity of the College Football Bowl Season

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If we’re stuck in the middle between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it must be time for the college football bowl season to begin. Every college football conference has completed their championship games and, for those that are at the upper echelons of the college football world, they can prepare to play for the National Championship. Beyond those three games – this year consisting of the Orange Bowl and the Cotton Bowl (both on December 31) and the National Championship Game (January 11) – there is an overabundance of games to be played.

In 2014, the college bowl season consisted of 35 games, meaning that 70 teams went to a bowl game from the 128 schools that make up the Football Bowl Subdivision (or FBS, which is different from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), the playoff system that the remainder of the collegiate football world plays under). There was plenty of fear in 2014 that there wouldn’t be enough qualified teams to play in the bowl games – to be “bowl eligible,” a team had to win six games from their 12-game schedule – but the final week of the season provided enough teams with a qualifying victory to fill out the schedule. Having faced the potential of not getting qualifying teams, you might have thought that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the governing body of collegiate athletics, would want to keep down the number of bowl games moving into the future. If you had that thought, you would be wrong.

For 2015, a grand total of 41 bowl games (including the National Championship Game) will fill the television screens of virtually every channel on the cable dial, more than double what existed only 20 years ago. Instead of barely finding 70 qualified teams to play in these games, now there was the necessity to add 10 more to the list. With new regulations instituted in the offseason – including the fact that FBS teams could not count victories against FCS teams towards their six-win qualification level – the NCAA did come up short in having enough teams qualify for bowl eligibility. Rather than admit that there were too many bowls, you know what the NCAA did? Granted “waivers” to teams to allow them to count wins against FCS teams to reach the six win mark or use “academic performance criteria” to allow for five win teams to play in a bowl. This is why you’ll see a 6-5 California team in the Armed Forces Bowl (despite one of their wins coming against Grambling) and a 5-7 Nebraska team in the Foster Farms Bowl against UCLA.

So if there aren’t enough teams to qualify to play in these bowl games, why are there more being created as we speak (it is reported that a new bowl game in Austin, TX, will join the ranks in 2016)? While the schools don’t make any money out of the trips to a bowl game, the bowls themselves and the NCAA are stripping every dollar they can out of the system.

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Although you might be surprised by this, the colleges and universities that go to these bowl games many times do not even turn a profit for playing in their respective bowl. It may be an honor to be invited to the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl (yes, that actually exists), but the schools have to get their personnel to the game. It costs major moolah for a university to load up planes with the team, cheerleaders, band, coaching staffs, athletic department personnel and college leadership – and this doesn’t even count in the appropriate equipment for the team – and get them to the stadium. In many cases there are media requirements, meaning the teams have to get there days before the game starts. This adds in hotel expenditures for everyone you just flew out to the Big Game.

If that wasn’t bad enough, here’s where we get into perhaps the biggest crime that the bowl games perpetrate on the colleges and universities. Besides having to round up the troops and get them to the game, the schools are then handed a block of tickets and told to sell every single stub to their fans. These ticket blocks sometimes are as large as 20,000 tickets and, if a school fails to sell every ticket, then the school has to buy whatever remaining tickets are left. This can total, in some cases, up to $500,000 per school by itself.

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If the schools aren’t making any money out of these bowl games, then who is?

The answer is virtually everyone else that isn’t involved with playing the game. The businesses that are the “sponsors” of the particular bowls can receive a market value (in advertising) several times larger than what the sponsorship fee cost. Even Bitcoin sponsored a bowl game last year (the Bitcoin Bowl used to be the St. Petersburg Bowl in 2014; Bitcoin didn’t come back in 2015 for a sponsorship of any bowl game), reaping some benefit from the deal because they are associated with the teams involved and the pageantry of the college bowl season.

Then there are the bowls themselves. Considered “non-profit organizations” because they are supposedly set up for a charitable cause, the bowls are a virtual gold mine of revenues. According to Yahoo! Sports, the Sugar Bowl in 2014 held $12.5 million in cash reserves, $20.8 million in publicly traded securities and actually doled out to their Chief Executive Officer a $600,000 a year salary. That’s a pretty big chunk of change to have sitting around for simply throwing a football game on New Year’s Day.

The conferences themselves are raking in the money. The major conferences – the Big 10, the Big 12, the PAC-12, the ACC and the SEC – reap $50 million; smaller conferences who are a part of the college bowl parade get upwards of $15 million (depending of the number of teams they have in the mix). The College Football Playoff adds in another $40 million for the conferences, meaning that #1 Clemson, #2 Alabama, #3 Michigan State and #4 Oklahoma earned another block of cash for the ACC, the SEC, the Big 10 and the Big 12.

Finally, there are the television networks. For broadcasting the College Football Playoff, the monolithic sports channel ESPN paid $7.3 BILLION in 2013 for the broadcasting rights until 2025. Before you feel too bad for ESPN (they have been laying off people of late to trim spending to be able to pay sports licensing fees), they are expected to have revenues of $10 BILLION over that timeframe. This isn’t even counting the other 38 games that make up the college bowl schedule nor the networks (Fox Sports, CBS Sports and NBC Sports and their affiliated cable outlets), which could run into the billions in their own right.

This is the insanity of the college bowl season. Despite the claims that a playoff system like the one that is operated in FCS would “impact the academic pursuits of the athletes” (a bullshit statement because it seems to work fine for the FCS schools), the NCAA is looking to maintain as much control over the schools – and control over the money – as possible. The bowl system is not there to reward the schools and the players for having a successful season, it is a blatant money grab by a system that maximizes every dollar by not having to share it with those who are the product on display.

It isn’t like these games are actually any good, either. In some cases, the teams are playing as much as a month following the last serious game speed contact they participated in and the rust shows in the teams’ performance on the field. The players – some with potential dreams of NFL glory, some just looking to finish their collegiate careers and move on into normal life – play with little to no passion for the game. Thus, you see final scores in the neighborhood of 52-49 or 56-53…there is absolutely ZERO defense played because no one, whether a blue-chip NFL prospect or a grinder on the line looking to complete their degree, wants to be injured in a game that means little to their own personal bottom line.

Much like years past, I will probably watch the College Football Playoff games, but I won’t be watching the Lysol Tidy Bowl live from Savannah, GA. There will be plenty of college basketball to watch (and there’s another money grab by the NCAA, but I digress) that will be much more entertaining than a 70-66 college football game. It just a further example of the insanity that has become college athletics as a whole and, in particular, college football.