Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bowled Over or Over Bowled?

by Bill Holmes

Saturday, December 15, 2012, we begin the division one (BCS) college bowl season.  This year there are 35 bowl games that run through January 7th.  To qualify for a bowl game, a team must win six games.  That's half the games of a normal schedule so we now reward those who win 50% of their games.  Isn't 50% a failing grade unless you're a weather person?  There are only 120 BCS football schools so it is necessary to allow mediocre teams into the bowls since more than half of the teams are needed to populate all these compelling games.  The final bowl of the season is a fake championship game.

This year we have food related bowls that celebrate potatoes, beef, pizza, Kraft, wings, chicken, more beef and Tostitos.  There are auto related bowls, MAACO, Meineke, Valero, Hyundai and Autozone.  There are financial company bowls and some sponsored by companies I never heard of and don't know what they make, sell or do.  We also have bowls that don't have a primary sponsor.  These unsponsored bowls are the invention of ESPN and/or a city that wants to stimulate tourism and economic activity.  ESPN always needs content to feed their 752 various channels.  Likewise there is always a mayor, tourist and convention bureau or civic leader who thinks a bowl game is a great idea.  Some cities even have multiple bowl games.  Here in the D/FW area we now have three games.  Most of these games would be financial busts without ESPN's money.  They are 98.6% TV events.  Watch some of the lesser bowl games and you'll see more empty than filled seats.

The first college football bowl game, the Rose Bowl, was in 1902.  It was started to help fund the Rose Parade.  The game was so bad there wasn't another one until 1916.  It was the lone bowl game until 1935 when the Orange, Sugar and Sun bowls began.  The Cotton Bowl began in 1937.  The next one, the Gator Bowl, didn't start until 1946.  Those are the bowl games I remember growing up.  It wasn't until much later that other bowls began to spring up.

Each of these bowls was completely independent.  The Rose Bowl usually matched the Big Ten and PAC 12 champions and still does.  The other bowls didn't have any formal deals with the various conferences.  With fewer than 10 bowls, there was no problem getting good teams.  It also meant that several deserving teams didn't get a post-season reward.  As important to the bowl selection committees as a team's record was how well the fans would "travel".  Before big TV money, an undefeated team with little fan support didn't help the bowl or it's host city.  It didn't matter how compelling the matchup would be so much as ticket sales and hotel reservations.  This thinking often lead to some strange choices by the bowls.  The combination of several deserving teams missing out and the explosion of TV led to a large increase in the number of bowl games.  A dash of greed should be sprinkled in too.  Let's face it, college football, the NCAA, BCS and bowls are all big business.

Have we finally reached the saturation point?  I think so.  More than half the BCS teams, many with 6-6 records, now participate.  There is even a team with a 6-7 record playing this year.  Some of the lesser bowls committees are on the edge of their seats watching the last week of the regular season.  That's because they are not sure there will be enough eligible teams to fill all the bowls.  Most of the bowls now have agreements with the various conferences to supply participants.  How would you like to be the BBVA Compass Bowl?  They get the Big East #5 team vs the SEC #9 team.  Pretty special.  First of all what is a BBVA Compass and secondly how good are the teams going to be?  This year they are both 6-6 one of which won their last game to get six wins.  I'm pretty sure that if fewer than 70 teams were eligible the NCAA would figure out an exception.  The NCAA is always looking out for the student athlete and would hate to deny any of them a chance to play one more football game.  There is no chance that money would have any bearing on their decision.

Bowls used to be a reward, usually in a warm climate, for a deserving team.  Now they are pretty much a 13th regular season game for almost 60% of the college football teams.  I can't imagine that going to Detroit in December to play in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl is a huge reward.  Oh wait, maybe the school, conference and NCAA get a slight monetary reward.  Of course the teams playing in it this year don't deserve a huge reward.

Times change and I'm a fan of college football so I'll watch my share of the 35 bowl games.  There are a few I'm looking forward to, a few that have teams I follow, a few others that should be OK and a bunch I don't care about.  I plan to miss the previously mentioned pizza bowl and BBVA Compass Bowl.  I think 35 bowls are too many and the original six is too few.  How about maybe 20 or 25 games and a winning record requirement?  

So boys and girls, stock the fridge, get the recliner ready, find the remote and check the TV guide.  Between now and January 7th there should be a bowl game most days and several on many days.  A couple of them might even be good games.


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