College football’s bowl season is odd. Compared to every other sport, it’s very odd. In what other sport is an entire season played and ended with an exhibition game? I can’t think of another like it. In most sports the stakes continue to rise all season. With a few important exceptions, that’s not true of college football.
This is the time of year when we start to read calls for the end of bowls or the restriction of bowls or some other sort of plan to change the status quo. Why do we read those articles this time of year? Mostly because there’s no actual football to write about today. There aren’t any games until the bowls themselves get started. Ironic, isn’t it? Many of the people who write about football, attack the very bowl system that gives them something to write about.
Yes, it’s ironic, but that doesn’t mean that they are wrong. Most of the criticism of the bowl system originates from the fact that most of the games are meaningless. They have no impact on any sort of championship, and many times the teams playing in the games don’t really seem to care. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there have been more bowls added to the slate, more meaningless bowls. That hasn’t sat well with those who think bowls are a waste of time.
The Best Teams
For a select few teams the bowl games do matter. In years past it was the BCS championship that mattered; now it’s the playoff bowls that matter. They don’t matter because they are bowls. Rather the playoff matters, and it happens to be played in bowls. There is no question that these games matter, but they aren’t really part of the traditional bowl system; they are a new creation.
A New Creation
The Playoff is a new creation, being only two years old, but the idea that bowls should determine champions is a relatively new idea as well. Bowls were originally just exhibitions put on by cities for the purposes of drawing some tourists to their cities over the holidays. See Rose Bowl. For many years national champions would be crowned by various organizations before the bowls had been played. That’s how important those bowls were. They were literally irrelevant to the determination of a national champion.
As time went on, the bowls started to take on some importance. Fans and teams began to look at the owl results as evidence of they team’s supremacy, and voters followed suit. Final polls shifted to being released after the bowls had been played, taking those results into account.
In the early 1990s, some of the top bowls got together to create the Bowl Coalition, an agreement to try to create a championship game. That was replaced by the Bowl Alliance and then the Bowl Championship Series. The goal of each of these was to create a national championship game, making one bowl incredibly important. The rest of the bowls were left behind though. For years they had been de facto less important; now they were clearly on the outside looking in, with no chance of relevance.
Still the second tier and lower level bowls persisted. They thrived and more were added. This year the bowls are at the point where there are so many bowls, there aren’t enough qualified teams to fill them. Some teams with losing records are having to fill them. With this situation, some people have asked why we have bowls or should we. The answer is yes, we should.
Lost I’m many conversations about college football is the most important group involved in the game: the players. Going to a bowl game is a reward for players and a perk of major college football. Players get to go to a vacation destination (usually) and have a week with fun mixed with football. Usually the week is filled with activities for the players, ranging from service to pure fun. Most players love their bowl week experiences. It would make little sense to deprive them of this for no real gain.
Fans love going to some bowl games. There are some bowl destinations that almost always sell out. Fans pack up the family and travel across the country for their own vacation. Other fans can’t make the trip but cherish being able to watch their team one more time before the long, dark offseason. It’s fun for many of them, whether they travel or just watch.
Going to a bowl is a big advantage over staying home. When a team qualifies for a bowl it is entitled to practice for the game. Makes sense, right? The key is that teams who don’t qualify for a bowl cannot continue to practice. They cannot continue to improve. This is especially important for young teams. For some of those teams an extra three weeks of practice can make the team better. They may win a game or two more next year because of the extra repetitions they had this year.
The Down Side
What’s the down side? Is there one? Are there going to be games on tv that some people don’t care about? Sure, but is that a reason to stop playing them? There are all kinds of things on TV people don’t want to watch, but they’re still there. Is there really any downside to having these games? Is anyone worse off? I don’t think so, and with the positives for so many, why mess with the system?