Do we have too many bowl games?
There are now a record 40 bowls – plus the College Football Playoff championship games – with 80 participants. For the first time, teams with losing records had to be invited because there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams.
And when San Jose State defeated Georgia State in the Cure Bowl – one of three games to be held at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl stadium this bowl season – it sent both teams home as losers. The Spartans and Panthers both finished 6-7, the first time in history that a bowl game’s outcome yielded losing records for both teams.
So is it really true that we have too many bowl games? Shouldn’t some of those 6-6 (let alone 5-7) teams be home for the holidays? Can’t we cut the bowls down by at least half?
The answer is no, no and no. A thousand times no! In fact, we could use even more bowl games!
To understand why bowl games exist, you have to go back more than 100 years. The first bowl game ever held was the 1902 Rose Bowl, played on a grassy field in Pasadena, conceived as a complementary fundraising activity for the fledgling Rose Parade, which began in 1880 and had become a national phenomenon.
In fact, the very word “bowl” came from the Rose Bowl stadium itself, which began hosting the game in 1923 and every year since except 1942 (when the game was moved to Durham, N.C., after the Pearl Harbor attack). And the Rose Bowl was the only “bowl” game until the 1932 season, when something called “Palm Festival” briefly surfaced.
Only in 1934 when both the Sugar and Orange bowls were born did Rose Bowl have permanent company. The number of bowl games slowly grew from there, to 10 by 1946 and 20 by 1997. Then it exploded. By 2006, there were 32 bowls. This year we breached the 40 mark.
But really, what’s so bad about having so many bowl games? Do you realize that for the most part the bowl games have been merely exhibitions, about as meaningful as the NFL’s Pro Bowl?
The AP’s national champions were selected before bowl games until the 1968 season. The coaches (the UPI) didn’t follow suit until 1974. Several teams were crowned “national champions” before going on to lose their bowl games.
With the advent of the College Football Playoff, every one of the bowls outside of the two playoff games is a mere exhibition, its outcome have no bearing on the championship chase. So who cares if there are 38, 48 or even 58 other games?
On any given week during the college football season, there are between 50 to 60 games each weekend. Most of those have no impact on the playoff or even conference races. Some are outright shams that feature SEC behemoths and FCS sacrificial lambs. If any games that need to be eliminated, it’s those.
But bowl games? At least they’re typically evenly matched and many are entertaining. Since they’re mere exhibitions most teams are willing to take more risks and play less conservatively. There have been many spectacular bowl games that had remotely nothing to do with the national championship.
Remember the 2006 Fiesta Bowl between Oklahoma and Boise State? How about the 1980 “Hail Mary” Holiday Bowl between BYU and SMU? The truth is, ask any fan base and they will tell you a favorite bowl game that had nothing to do with a title of any kind.
So instead of reducing the number of bowl games, how about adding them? We should have 64 bowl games so every one of the 128 FBS teams may play in one. Every team gets the extra weeks of practice that it needs and all the players get to receive some nice bowl swag for a season’s worth of hard work.
Let’s remember that most bowl games are made-for-TV events, so don’t let all the empty stands in the stadiums be a distraction. The goal of most bowl games is not to put fanny in the seats but to give ESPN (which broadcasts 37 of the 40 bowl games) valuable live programming during the otherwise dead weeks leading up to Christmas and New Years.
ESPN wouldn’t double the amount of its bowl inventory over the last 20 years if it’s a financial loser. In fact, fans will watch bowl games no matter where, when and who’s playing. They know in three weeks the real winter will arrive and it’ll be another eight months before another season kicks off.
But also don’t forget that the bowl games are for the players. Many of them will never pick up a helmet again after the bowl game. It’s one more chance to bond with their teammates, have a nice meal on someone else’s dime and maybe pick up a Fossil watch, Xbox or Oakley sunglasses as a little keepsake.
What’s wrong with that?