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Post Too many bowl games?! Are you freaking nuts?

Thursday November 30, 2006

’tis the season to start hearing some very dumb statements from college football fans.

  • "There are just too many bowl games."
  • "Teams with (x) wins don’t deserve a bowl game."

Once you get beyond the BCS championship game, almost every other bowl game from the Rose to the GMAC is an exhibition game. The only variables are the payouts, dates, and media coverage. There are surely historical and traditional contexts that make some bowls more important or prestigious than others. Occasionally a bowl game might serve as a shot in the arm going into the next season for a team or a Heisman candidate, and the undecided recruits might pay a little attention to your final ranking. Still, there’s not much more than pride at stake in any game outside of Glendale.

It hasn’t always been this way – the Bowl Alliance / BCS and its other iterations have guaranteed irrelevance for most bowls. Remember the Cotton Bowl? In 1983, it was part of the national title picture as Georgia upset Texas 10-9. Now it’s a consolation prize for SEC and Big 12 teams played in a dilapidated stadium. In the 1990 season, the Citrus Bowl was in the national spotlight. Soon after, it became a punchline as Steve Spurrier tweaked Tennessee. Even the other BCS bowls suffer from diminished relevance. In 1996, viewers jumped With the mission of the BCS to match #1 and #2, it has concentrated all postseason relevance in one or very rarely two games.

But enough history and back to the point. If only one game is really relevant and the others aren’t playing for much of anything, it makes no difference how many bowls there are. If two teams are willing to get together, if a sponsor is willing to make a stadium and a payout available, and if there’s a network willing to send its sixth-string announcing team, who does it hurt to play the additional games? At worst, they are watched by 5 people and the outcome echos into empty space. Even at the risk of losing money by traveling, smaller programs would and do fall over each other to get national exposure on ESPN. The real benefit of a bowl game to most programs is a couple of weeks of extra practice – it’s essentially a jump on spring ball and player evaluations for the next year. Early enrollees even get to participate in bowl practices. What program doesn’t want that?

Dwelling on what teams "deserve" also doesn’t make much sense. Bowls are and always have been business arrangements between schools or conferences and the host committees. If a town thinks that Miami will bring fans (yeah, right) and make sponsors and merchants happy, they’ll get a bowl invitation with six wins regardless of what some talking head thinks they deserve. Occasionally teams will decline bids, but let’s leave that up to them. I’m not even sure if the six-win benchmark is appropriate. If someone wants to put up the cash for two winless teams to play in the Toilet Bowl, go for it. Of course it would be ridiculous, but it would be no more or less meaningful than the Gator Bowl.

What’s always been strange to me is why college football fans would have a problem with more college football. Bowls in general might be anachronistic, and the lesser bowls might be boring, ugly, mediocre, or all of the above, but they’re still football. If you’re not that much of a fan of the game, watch something else. So San Diego State vs. Ohio University isn’t Southern Cal vs. Ohio State. It’s another four hours that poker isn’t taking over actual sports programming. Play on!

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