Check the batteries in your remote — the college football bowl season gets under way on Tuesday with (gasp!) the New Orleans Bowl matchup of (gasp!) 6-5 Arkansas State vs. 6-5 Southern Mississippi.

That kicks off a marathon of 28 games in 16 days, with at least one bowl every day but two — Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

Really. No college bowl games on New Year's Day.

You remember New Year's Day, don't you? When I was a kid, Jan. 1 meant college football — Rose, Orange, Cotton, Sugar . . . and nothing else much mattered.

(These days it's Rose, Orange, Sugar or Fiesta — whatever the site of the BCS title game — and nothing else much matters.)

There will be football on New Year's Day, however — the NFL. Yes, the non-bowl oddity of 2006 is a function of the calendar, what with Jan. 1 falling on a Sunday. But the bowl season is also a function of ESPN trying to fill out its broadcast schedule.

Seven out of 10 bowl games — 20 of the total of 28 — are on ESPN or ESPN2.

Hey, ESPN owns the Las Vegas Bowl. Which, come to think of it, is a horrible precedent.

If ESPN, which wields its influence like a club over the college sports world, owned more bowls, we'd never get rid of the ridiculous system that's preventing us from having actual playoffs, an actual national champion and something resembling fairness in the world of major college football. You know, something far distant from the current BCS system.

All you have to do is look at the bowl schedule and you'll see that ESPN already has too much influence — that the bowl schedule, if not the entire system, is designed with TV in mind. And I'm not just talking about having the national championship game played on the oh-so-traditional Wednesday after New Year's.

ESPN has its one game (the Outback Bowl) on Jan. 2 (this year's equivalent of New Year's Day) and all three of the New Year's Eve games. But you don't think games are being played on every day of the week but Sundays to accommodate the teams and their fans, do you?

Obviously not.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of local fans, is there really a reason for 6-5 teams to be playing postseason games except to provide programming for ESPN? (That said, under the current system BYU and Utah are as worthy as a lot of the other teams.)

Even with the presence of a few teams with actual good records (10-1 TCU; 9-3 Boise State; 10-1 Oregon; 9-2 Miami; 10-2 LSU), the overall winning percentage of the 40 teams in ESPN's 20 bowls is only .643 — meaning they lost more than a third of their games but are still playing in the postseason.

In contrast, the eight games not on ESPN or ESPN2 feature teams with a combined winning percentage of .830 — and that includes CBS's coverage of the Sun Bowl, for goodness sake!

Wouldn't it be nice if postseason play actually meant something other than a way for ESPN to sell advertising time?

BY THE WAY, for those of you keeping track, 13 of the 56 teams (including Utah and BYU) in bowl games barely squeaked in with 6-5 records. Another 15 teams have only seven wins.

How many of you have jobs that reward you if you're successful less than 55 percent of the time? Or even 58 percent (the equivalent of 7-5)? Or even 64 percent (7-4)?


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com