The (Way Too Many) Bowl Season

As I write this, college football’s bowl season is getting underway, with five games out of 40 that will crowd television schedules through the holidays. Yes, that’s 40. There are too many, and they’re worsening the inequity that plagues collegiate athletics.

In the time period in which A COACH AT HEART takes place, there were a dozen bowls, and they were generally open only to league champions and a couple of at-large teams from the South. The then-Pac-8 and Big Ten sent their champions to the Rose Bowl, and every other team stayed home.

The Stanford players, as detailed in the novel, would have exchanged major limbs for the right to play on New Year’s Day in Pasadena. Turned out they didn’t have to go to such an extreme, but the feelings were strong. In the mid-1970s, the two conferences lifted their ban on non-champions going to bowls. It came a little late for Michigan, which from 1972-75 went 10-1, 10-0-1 and 10-1 and stayed home for the holidays.

The San Diego State players dreamed of a bowl of any kind. Three seasons of 10-1 in the 1970s — which included victories over schools like Oregon State, Iowa State, Arizona and Florida State — got the Aztecs nowhere. They didn’t make their first bowl as a Division 1 program until 1986.

Fast forward to this year. Stanford is going to its third Rose Bowl in four years and came within a couple of bobbled center-quarterback exchanges from taking part in the playoffs. San Diego State is playing in its sixth bowl in a row.

And now, instead of having too few, we have too many. Fans have actually felt that way for a while, and it took the situation to get get out of hand for the powers-that-aren’t (think NCAA) to notice. With three schools sporting 5-7 records playing in the postseason, they’re finally getting off their duffs and doing something about it by forming, yes, a committee. Like that’s going to help.

What follows is one author’s solution.

Two issues need to be addressed:

  1. There are simply too many bowls, and there will never be 80 teams with the current qualification of six victories. The number needs to be reduced.
  2. Inequity. The disparity between the haves and have-nots in collegiate athletics is at its all-time worst, and the effects will be seen on the field very soon. Redesigning bowl rules will even things out a little bit.

The best solution will be to require that bowls be required to pay enough money to defray standard team travel. All these “minor” bowls showcasing either bad power conference teams or the better non-power league schools generally are money losers for the participants.

A big reason are provisions for a certain amount of tickets to be purchased by fans of the teams, and if your school went 6-6 and is not exactly playing in the garden spot of the universe, you’ll most likely prefer to stay home with family for the holidays. A formula will have to be derived so that the bowls aren’t cheated by Hollywood-style accounting, but this would almost certainly cut out eight or nine bowls right there.

Here’s a dramatic view of the inequity problem. In the Camellia Bowl, Ohio (8-4) will take on Appalachian State (10-2), and each school will get $100,000 for appearing. No way they come out ahead by the time they travel to Montgomery, Ala., and don’t come close to fulfilling their ticket guarantee.

Meanwhile, the Pinstripe Bowl in New York will fork over $2 million apiece to Duke and Indiana, both of which finished 6-6. Are Duke and Indiana better teams than the Camellia Bowl entrants? Yes. Are they more deserving of such big bucks? No.

The solution is that the 6-6 and even 5-7 teams, if the NCAA does nothing to reduce the number of games, have to be on the low end of the totem poll.

So here goes:

  1. Keep the playoff and New Year’s 6 system as it is. It’s working well and the two G5 teams to qualify the first two years have been clearly the best of the non-power conference teams.
  2. All Football Bowl Subdivision conference champions and 10-win teams should be in major bowls with large payouts, and playing decent teams from power conferences.
  3. The next priority should be division winners from any FBS league that haven’t been accounted for above.
  4. All eight-win and better teams should be accommodated before 7-5 and 6-6 teams are invited.
  5. A standard formula for basic travel costs should be set up, taking into account distance and destinations and so forth, and bowl payouts should, at minimum, cover those expenses. Teams that want to exceed basic travel costs are welcome to do so.

Schools that would be elevated this year under No. 2 would be Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Bowling Green, San Diego State and Temple.

Navy and Western Kentucky are also in that crowd, but are in good shape as each will get $1 million for their games, and both get attractive opponents.

But for winning the Mid-American Conference, Bowling Green gets the honor of taking on Georgia Southern, third place in the Sun Belt, for $750,000 in the GoDaddy Bowl.

Sun Belt winner Arkansas State gets Louisiana Tech in the New Orleans Bowl for $500,000.

Maybe the biggest crime is what happened to Temple. The Owls were one of 2015’s best stories, and they’re now relegated to the Boca Raton Bowl to play Toledo, a pretty decent team but one that didn’t even make the MAC’s championship game.

San Diego State fans aren’t exactly thrilled, either, after the Aztecs won the Mountain West but don’t get a major payout and have to play on Christmas Eve when an NFL game is also on television.

The disparities are real. But reducing the number of bowls to 32 or so,  providing equity to conference champs and 10-game winners, and not giving extra benefits to power conference also-rans, will improve both the bowl season and college football itself.

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