Gator Bowl Blues for the Orange
by Jim Alderson, 11/27/01

I always find it amusing to listen to some people explain to me how they are terrific football fans, especially the parts about how they never miss a televised game. They are invariably NFL fans, and to them, watching football involves a recliner or barstool. When I speak of tailgating, driving, ticket procurement or the other logistical challenges involved in my watching games, I might as well be speaking in tongues. Those who attend the games and those who watch on television inhabit different football worlds. We have just been reminded of that difference.

As we await Miami’s visit and the inevitable, we have been treated to the formal and expected announcement that Tech will again be participating in the Gator Bowl. This is no great surprise, except, it would seem, to certain Syracuse fans who feel they should be, not buying tickets or arranging travel packages, of course, but making plans to watch the Orange on television. The squawking has been loud. Syracuse occupies a unique position among big-city BE members in that they do not have professional competition. They function as their city’s pro team, and their fans act like it, in particular when it comes to traveling.

Syracuse University is an excellent academic institution [after all, Bill Roth seems to be a fairly intelligent guy], but one does wonder about the quality of its Economics Department. Many Orangepersons seem to feel that the money used to write bowl checks grows on trees. It comes in large part from fans that buy tickets, and throw in the added bonus, from the bowl city’s point of view, of contributing to the local economy by traveling to the game and spending money. Syracuse has few of those fans while Tech has many, and that is why Tech has been invited. The Gator Bowl has bills to pay and this is how they pay them.

Amusing too is some of the ranting from SU ‘fans’ about how they should immediately bolt the Big East for some other conference. Apparently they would find being passed over by all Big 11 or many ACC teams for bowls preferable to being passed over by Virginia Tech. Equally funny are the predictable calls for a playoff. When and if a playoff system arrives, we will see a situation where, instead of fans of many teams have the opportunity to travel to bowls, those of a few will be expected to travel to different destinations week after week. Given their history, this does not bode well for Syracuse’s inclusion, either.

Syracuse has solidly established itself as the BE’s worst bowl traveling team. Their fan support at the Gator in 95, the Liberty in 96, the MCB in 99 and even the Orange and Fiestas has been pathetic. That lack of backing is why three times since the formation of the conference Syracuse has been bowl eligible but passed over, and it is why the Gator snubbed them this time around. When it comes to bowls they are the Hoos of the Big East.

This rather pointed snub by the Gator is not the first time it has happened to Syracuse. Most remember 1996, when both Syracuse and another of the BE’s no-traveling teams, Miami, despite being conference co-champions [along with Tech], were both passed over by the Gator in favor of fourth-place West Virginia. The Mountaineers responded by bringing more fans than the Canes and the Orange would have brought together. Whether it is bowls or a playoff, the system will require that for the benefit of all, revenue be maximized, and paying customers maximizes it.

In defense of the Cuse, it should be pointed out that they are a relatively small school whose alumni base does not contain large numbers of people to make bowl, or playoff, trips. This is a problem unique among major conferences to the Big East, with its preponderance of private schools. It also presents a dilemma for the conference office when attempting to obtain bowl tie-ins. I have issues with our commissioner, but one of them is not negotiating bowl trips. He is playing with a very poor hand containing many schools that do not travel well. I am not sure what the answer is, but the Big East bowl future is not bright, and somebody down the road is going to get burned more badly than Syracuse getting shipped across the country.

Would the carping SU fans desire they not go to a bowl at all? I have no doubt that is what the Insight folks would prefer. If not for Virginia Tech and Notre Dame the Big East would have no second-tier bowl slots at all. The Gator has sure made no bones about how they feel, and neither did the Music City, or the Blockbuster/Carquest/Micron before them. No matter what conference they are in, or whether there are bowls or a playoff, it is becoming imperative for fans of Syracuse, and Miami and Boston College, for that matter, to provide better fan support than they have.

Paul Pasqualoni’s team had an excellent season, and they deserve better. What they mostly deserve, however, are better fans. Those Syracuse fans howling about their snub have two choices: either provide better support for their team than kicking back NFL-style in front of a television, or get over it.

Jim Alderson, who first made his mark with his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports.  While Hokie fans currently have very little use for subject number 2, Alderson is an entertaining and informative columnist on subject number 1.  For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.


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