The college football bowl season used to have meaning, at least more meaning than it has now anyway. There were a relatively small number of bowl games leading up to New Year’s Day. That’s when the rival conferences met up again to determine the best in what was generally a long-standing tradition. Some bowls were invitational, others had predetermined berths going to conference winners. This would usually involve ranked teams, but not always. You could spend your New Year’s Day nursing your hangover to the Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl. In 1982 the Fiesta Bowl brought its Tostitos to New Year’s Day guaranteeing nonstop football following the Tournament of Roses parade in the morning until you could no longer keep your eyes open at night. With various conferences tied to these bowls, traditional rivalries grew and heated debates followed. The “water cooler” talk these games generated kept every one who cared talking about the bowls for months to follow, if not all the way to the next season. A few games were so epic in nature they would be debated for generations.
Debate was good for college football. Anyone with a marketing degree, most sports fans, and even a handful of switchboard operators will tell you that having the general population talk about your product for months or even years is good business. It will draw people to that product, to buy in or at least to watch. What is not to like about a series of games steeped in tradition and featuring big name college teams? By not having a championship game, people could debate who the best team in the nation actually is. Which Bowl game is most important? What would happen if OU played UU, or some such thing? The “my game is better than your game” talk could go on for years. This was the beauty of the system. It rarely featured the number 1 and 2 ranked teams in the same game, and when it did other teams could still debate number one in the nation.
For those of us in the midwest, our greatest interest was usually the Rose Bowl. It is known as the granddaddy of all the Bowl games. It started on January 1, 1902 when Michigan walloped Standford 49 to zero. Although the Big 10 participated in the Rose Bowl for many years against the PAC 10 and its predecessors, no formal agreement was reached until 1962. From 1946 through 1997 the midwest dominated conference, the Big 10, sent a school west for the big game. Would it be Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan? Perhaps Northwestern will finally return or Illinois? Our conference must be better than theirs! In the 52 consecutive years, each conference won 26 times. All the bowl games were important, but the Rose Bowl was the best.
Then something happened to ruin the Bowl Season. It was known as the Bowl alliance then. Now it is the Bowl Championship Series. While there has been an explosion of Bowl games, 35 this year, the BCS has told us that only one really counts. Which game is that? How do teams get there? What are the criteria for deciding one and two? At one time the AP or UPI polls were what mattered. Were the sports writers better at ranking teams or the coaches? When the bowl games were over we waited to see how each would give their final rankings. We do not do that now. The NCAA computer picks one and two and the rest are left to play in a meaningless bowl season. The Rose Bowl tries to continue its tradition and have a PAC 10 champion play a Big 10 champion, except when it gets the so-called championship game every 4th year. Even with that they may not get the Big 10 Champion when they do not host the BCS championship, because the BCS may pick them for one of the other top games. In 2003 the Big 10 had co-champions but the Rose Bowl did not get either one. One went to the championship game and the other went to the Orange Bowl. Why? The Orange Bowl was allowed to pick its matches before the Rose Bowl was allowed to pick.
So when will this great game be on tonight so we can see the champs? It won’t. Not only are we told these games no longer count, the NCAA will provide us with another week of meaningless bowl games. Everyday until next Monday, we will be presented with a Bowl game. Tomorrow it is the Sugar Bowl. You may wish to check the sports pages for the rest, or not. Why did the NCAA decide to break up the traditions in favor of their computer’s rankings? Do you really have to ask? Greed. It is pure and simple. All 35 of the bowl games have sponsors and a few of them may fill the stadiums. Some will not draw many fans to the stadiums, however. Who wants to go to a game after they told you it does not count for anything? If you look in the stands at most of these games, there are a lot of empty seats. When I saw the end of the number 20 ranked Northwestern vs unranked Mississippi State in the Something Bowl brought to me by some Important Sponsor I saw many of the stands were empty. It doesn’t really matter, as long as they have a corporate sponsor.
I am sure all the remaining games have big corporate sponsors and television coverage. If not, they would not exist. Bowls without corporate sponsors and tv contracts have gone the way of the dodo bird or previous BCS computers. Indeed there are far more bowl games in the graveyard of college traditions than there are current bowl games. The present BCS format will also bite the dust when the NCAA goes to a 4 team play off system. Is there any guarantee that those on the outside looking in do not deserve to actually be one of the 4? Of course not. They will just tell us there will be 3 games of meaning instead of just one. Why would they go to this format? Have you been paying attention? Greed. The next television deal for the Championship playoffs is worth a reported 500 million for a dozen years. Now we are getting closer to NFL money. By the way, you better have cable or satellite television. ESPN bought the rights and that is no Mickey Mouse agreement. Well, in a way it is.
- Gator Bowl 2013: Northwestern vs. Miss. State Live Scores, Analysis and Results (bleacherreport.com)
- College Football Bowl Live Thread – Early New Year’s Day – The … (thephinsider.com)
- A Brief History of College Bowl Games (history.com)
- Northwestern wins Gator Bowl (toledoblade.com)
- Wisconsin vs. Stanford Rose Bowl Pick: January 1st 2013 (touthouse.com)
- The Business of the Rose Bowl (forbes.com)