Thoughts on College Football Bowl Games

Posted in Sports - football, mostly by EloiSVM42 on January 21, 2016

Believe it or not, young’uns, there was a time when there were only four college football bowl games, and they had nothing to do with national rankings.

In theory, these four bowls – Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton – pitted the best eight teams against one another, though it rarely seemed to work out that way, and it certainly didn’t necessarily pit #1 against #2, and so on. The bowl committees didn’t even try to do that. For instance, the Rose Bowl always took the winners of the Big 10 an Pac 12 Conferences, whatever their ranking. Usually, the teams were both highly ranked, but not always.

The bowls were not tied to ranking, except indirectly. They were viewed as a reward for the teams who had done well, after the final rankings were determined. The players played, but also enjoyed themselves. You can imagine how a Big 10 team, say, Minnesota, would enjoy spending a holiday break in Southern California, or how an OU or Nebraska team would love to do the same in Miami. The fans of these teams who attended the games doubtless felt the same. I know I did. One could argue that those were the good old days.

Times have changed. The curtain falls and time passes, and now there are more bowl games than the colors in a jumbo box of Crayons. By the time all the slots are filled, more than 60% of college teams in America are going somewhere, which means a whole lot of students are missing a whole lot of classes, many to play in some not so desirable venues. The Pinstripe Bowl in New York in December? Come on.

The bowls are used to determine national rankings now, so they are no longer a reward but a stressor. Worse, all of these bowls now have sponsors, which adds a vulgar volume of crass commercialism, albeit with a little unintended humor: the Belk Bowl (what the hell’s a Belk?), the TaxSlayer Bowl, The Quick Lanes Bowl, the Russell Athletic Bowl (which always reminds me I used to wear Russell Athletic Supporters), and my own personal favorite, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

That said, I like that we now have a championship playoff. I’d like to see it expanded to eight or 10 teams. I think this year was proof the system works well. There was a strong consensus that the four teams in the playoffs were the most worthy, and the teams that filled out the remaining major bowls were good as well. There are only a few problems to iron out, very few if you reduce the emphasis on money just a bit.

First, now that we have a playoff system, the remaining bowls are superfluous, save for providing entertainment to alumni so that they may write checks to their alma maters. You know it. I know it. Everybody knows it. Other than that, and a blip in local economies, they are an afterthought, though one that comes before the important games. And that’s the problem.

The long hiatus between the end of regular season and the playoff games upsets teams’ routine, with unpredictable effects. Injuries heal, but more school time is lost by more students; attention wanders back to academics, or the NFL draft; coaches move on, the whole scene changes.

I would rather see the more meaningful playoff and championship games played immediately after the season, while the teams are focused, and let the other bowl games fend for themselves.  (Note: I’ve been to some minor bowl games and they can be fun and interesting. For instance, at the Cactus Bowl in Tempe, AZ in 2012, the overhead camera fell and almost landed on the Iowa quarterback.)

Obviously, this idea will be resisted by entrenched “bowl interests,” including chambers of commerce, television networks, but especially university presidents. They took control of athletics in the interest of cleaning them up, but just the opposite has happened. Athletic departments have some interest in the integrity of their athletic programs, but university presidents have no interest in anything but money. That’s their job.

The NCAA basketball tournament – the best event in sports in my view, and I don’t even watch basketball except in March – goes immediately from conference championship games to the Big Dance, which is over in only a few weeks, with more students going home and back to the books after each game. NCAA football should follow suit.

I predict it will come to this one day, but I am making the case now because, well, it’s a good idea. Minor bowls may fade away, but we can live with that, and I think colleges and universities will benefit from it too, once their presidents get over the shock.

So, do we want a better playoff system, or the status quo of interminable and meaningless Toilet Bowls?” I prefer the former.

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