CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Bowl games or playoff system?
It is an age-old debate that comes up about this time of year when the bowl season heats up. Critics of the bowl system argue that it rewards mediocrity.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said yesterday there is room for playoffs and bowls, and that people who criticize bowl games are missing the bigger picture: they are a small reward for players who put in a lot of hours and a lot of hard work, because they allow them to spend a few days enjoying time with their teammates and coaches in a different atmosphere.
"These kids and coaches are together so much and such a large amount of time but the overwhelming majority of it is business, meetings, work, practice and workouts," Wannstedt said. "So here, you get a couple of days to do some things with guys you have spent that much time with that are not related to football -- it is healthy.
"I think it adds to the college experience -- I mean, our kids are excited about Wednesday [the teams will go to Lowe's Motor Speedway and experience riding in a NASCAR car around the track], they may never get to do that and tomorrow night, we're going to an NBA game. So getting them away, getting them some exposure, it is all very good for them and most importantly, they get to have a little bit of fun."
Yesterday the Panthers and their opponent, North Carolina, arrived in Charlotte and were introduced at a welcome reception at Strike City in the city's Epicentre and, as Wannstedt said, will be involved in activities leading up to the game Saturday.
Last year the Panthers played one of the worst bowl games in college football history -- they were on the wrong end of a 3-0 score with Oregon State in the Sun Bowl -- but Wannstedt said part of their problem was preparation, and that won't be an issue for Saturday's game.
"If we waited until we got down here to get our game plan together, we'd never be able to do it," he said. "We had three hard days of practice -- Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Saturday we weren't on the field until six, so there were no Christmas parties for us. We got the work done and the trade-off is we can come down here and relax."
One of the most important events of the week will take place today when selected players and coaches from both teams will visit Levine Children's Hospital. ... Neither team practiced yesterday. ... Pitt will practice at Charlotte Country Day School, the alma mater of starting weakside linebacker Max Gruder. ... Although the lower bowl is virtually sold out, ticket sales for the game have been slow as fewer than 50,000 have been sold (capacity at Bank of America Stadium is 73,778). Last year's game, West Virginia-North Carolina, was a sell out.
Paul Zeise can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1720.