Just as college athletics have been highly instrumental in the lowering of academic standards at most major universities, so too have they been a force in lowering the meaning of success.
The issue of lower academic standards isn’t just a happening at the football factories of the SEC and their brother institutions across the BCS, but also at the service academies and in the Ivy League.
The same goes for the lowering of the level of success. We’ve been hearing it for weeks, and it will reach a near-crescendo today: ''bowl-eligibility.’’ They’d have us believe it’s a measuring stick of success when it’s often actually the meaning of mediocrity.
The promised-land of bowl-eligibility -- six wins -- awaits the Pitt football team today when it plays at Syracuse. If the Panthers, who are 5-5, win, they are bowl-eligible. There won’t be dancing in the streets, but there will be a feeling of accomplishment.
Too bad. There will be teams playing in bowl games with 6-6 records. Some will finish 6-7. That dilutes the meaning of success.
The extension of the season should be left to greater glory, but that’s the way of college football today. Late November should be the perfect time to allow football players to become full-time students, but the bowl season extends their time in the workplace at least another month.
I thought the Post-Gazette’s Pitt beat writer Sam Werner had reached a high level of absurdity when he wrote the following in his chat this week: ''It's absolutely critical that Pitt gets to a bowl game this year, no way around it.’’
That made no sense -- until I read his next paragraph:
''Pitt probably won't end up going to a very desirable bowl game. Destinations like Shreveport or Detroit seem most likely, but it would give the Panthers 15 extra practices to get a jump on spring ball for next year. Especially on a team that is young and is in the process of turning over a good deal of its roster, those 15 practices are key.’’
There you have it. The real reason coaches love going to bowl games. They get to keep their charges on the field for 15 more practices. Somehow, I don’t think that’s what they had in mind more than 100 years ago when it was decided to add intercollegiate athletic competition to the college menu.
At any rate, Pitt should have no trouble with Syracuse, which also is seeking bowl-eligibility. The Orange are 5-5 and actually have a better ACC record than Pitt -- 3-3 vs. 2-4.
On Oct. 19, Syracuse lost to Georgia Tech, 56-0. On Nov. 2, Pitt lost to Georgia Tech, 21-10, in a game that was in doubt until the final three minutes. It’s not usually wise to use comparative scores in evaluating teams, but these two games seem to speak clearly to the differences in Pitt and Syracuse.
Of course, Pitt being Pitt -- which is to say for the past three decades or so it has fairly consistently lost when expected to win -- this prediction most certainly can’t be cast in concrete.
But let me go a step further: Not only will Pitt beat Syracuse, a week later it will beat Miami to finish 7-5 and add a bit of a flourish to its ‘bowl-eligibility.’