Watching Reggie Bush and the Southern Cal Trojans dismantle UCLA on Saturday, I was captivated by the running back’s speed and quickness. I loved that every time he touched the ball, he had the chance to take it all the way. Then at halftime – with Bush already over 200 yards rushing – the drama switched to something else: the jaw-dropping Dr. Pepper Halftime Report as part of the Dr. Pepper Championship Saturday on ABC.

Roshan Reddy

 

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl; Nokia Sugar Bowl; FedEx Orange Bowl; The Rose Bowl sponsored by Citi.

It doesn’t even arouse suspicion anymore. We just recognize that bowl games are going to be sponsored by big-time corporations.

It’s been happening for years, and it seems natural that the bowl games – NCAA football’s biggest moneymakers – have these names attached to them. Some of these games are nothing but sponsorships. The Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl have history to fall back on, but what about the Capital One Bowl or the Champs Sports Bowl?

For whatever reason, I’ve never complained. I’ve accepted the fact that bowl games will always be sponsored – the Michigan athletic department budgets $12 million every year from bowl game revenue generated by the Big Ten, and that money has to come from somewhere – so I’ve moved on.

But when did championship Saturday become Dr. Pepper Championship Saturday? When did we create a television show for the bowl game selection and make it Tostitos Selection Sunday? Why can’t we watch a championship football game that’s simply called the ACC Championship Game? Was the hour’s worth of commercials during the game and the millions of dollars of advertising money that comes along with that just not enough?

We’ve gotten to the point where there has to be a name on everything. Saturday’s game between Southern Cal and UCLA was one of the biggest of the year for the Trojans because a win sent them back to the National Championship for the third straight year. And it was huge for Joe Paterno and the Penn State Nittany Lions, who might have taken Southern Cal’s spot in the Rose Bowl if the Bruins had been able to put up just 48 more points. But it was also probably an important game for the world of corporate athletics – like Michigan, Southern Cal is sponsored by Nike while UCLA collects its money from Adidas.

Congratulations to Nike for its big win this weekend.

When I start ranting about corporations taking over collegiate athletics, my slightly more moderate friends tend to question my motives. It seems to them to be perfectly harmless for Tostitos, Nokia and Dr. Pepper to get involved in the biggest games on college campuses.

Why should I care if the logo on ABC’s halftime set has the Dr. Pepper insignia on it? Other than themselves, who does it harm when the talking heads have to mention “the world’s oldest soft drink” before telling us what happened in the game?

The truth is that it harms everyone. Maybe not that much, but as we become desensitized to advertising (like I have with the bowl games), society suffers. Instead of buying the best product available, consumers are more inclined to buy the biggest product – the one by the company that spends the most on advertising. FedEx, for example, is a $30 billion company.

And the bigger the corporation becomes, the more it feels it’s above the law – see McDonald’s with tomato farmers or Coke with union workers in Colombia.

That’s the “No Logo” argument. But there’s something a bit more tangible for collegiate athletics. Even those who don’t buy the argument against big corporations might understand the purity of college sports and the desire to keep it that way.

That’s why we don’t pay the athletes, right? It’s supposed to be about 22 guys on the football field – or 14 swimmers in the pool during a water polo game – battling it out for pride and love of the game.

There’s this commercial for the NCAA Championships that comes on ESPN every once in a while. It’s just video clips of athletes celebrating – and agonizing – over college sports. Every time it comes on, I get fired up. Because that’s what college sports are about. I love the emotion that’s thrown into them.

When the Michigan-Ohio State game ended a few weeks ago, and I walked around on the turf of the Big House for possibly the final time, I stopped in front of the Michigan bench and took in the expressions of Michigan linebackers David Harris, Shawn Crable and Prescott Burgess, who had just lost the last game of a 7-4 regular season. It was heartbreaking.

And even though it probably wouldn’t have been noticeably different if it had been the SBC/Yahoo Michigan-Ohio State game, something would have been lost. The purity of it all would have been gone.

So Dr. Pepper has Championship Saturday and Tostitos has Selection Sunday. The Wolverines will wear their Nike uniforms in the Alamo Bowl, sponsored by MasterCard.

Please corporate America, just don’t take any more of our collegiate sports.

 

Starting the season in the top-five: zero dollars. A 7-4 season with a trip to the Alamo Bowl: priceless. Ian Herbert loves those MasterCard commercials and can be reached at iherbert@umich.edu.

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