Sunday, December 27, 2015

Bowled Over

There are 41 college football bowls this season, up 2 from the previous year, and up about 30 from the number that the vast majority of people pay any attention to. You can't turn on ESPN without seeing a bowl game or ads for the upcoming bowl games. Having so many bowl games is moderately silly, but I can't see that it's doing much harm.
Not one of the new bowls!
College football bowls are a strange beast. There really isn't another post-season like it in any sport that I'm familiar with. Most post-season structures are built entirely around determining a single champion. We do have three games in the current bowl structure that hold a 4-team playoff, but the vast majority of bowls are unrelated to the championship. In most sports, teams with no chance at the overall championship are sent home. But in college football, a lot of those teams still play a bowl game.

There's been a goodly amount of angst around the Internet about how many bowls are being played, and I've heard plenty in person, too. The biggest complaint is that with so many games to play, you can no longer fill them all with teams that had a winning regular-season record. (There were three 5-7 teams in bowls this year.) That's unfortunate, but I can't see how it makes a lot of difference. As close as many college football games are, the difference between 5-7 and 6-6 can easily be just a single play (or call by an official) in a single game. Having that play go the wrong way doesn't make a 5-7 team any less worthy than a 6-6 team, or even a 7-5 team that got two plays to go the right way.

Another argument against the bowl proliferation is that the importance of making it to a bowl game is diminished. While that is true, I don't think it's a significant argument. Players, coaches, and fans already know that making it to the Random-Corporate-Sponsor.com Bowl isn't the same as one of the long-running traditional bowls, or the championship playoff. No one is going to think less of the Rose Bowl because the Foster Farms Bowl exists.

Some folks have tried to make the argument that having more bowls cuts into the school time of the players, or adds to their potential for injury. Both true, but compared to the school impact or injury possibilities of a full regular season of football, one additional bowl game isn't a significant addition.

And of course there's the money-making aspect of bowl season, with huge amounts of money flowing from sponsors to bowl organizers and conferences and teams. I don't think much of how the NCAA handles money in any of their sports, but I also don't think fewer games will help the issues that exist.

The best argument I've seen for having all these bowl games is the opportunity it gives to the players. These are young men playing a team sport that takes up a significant portion of their lives during their college years. Most of them won't ever play in the NFL or another professional league. The bowl game could very well be the highlight of their career, even if it's just some no-name bowl with a few thousand fans in the stands.

College football has a lot of issues to address, from injury concerns to where the money goes. But having too many bowl games isn't one of them.

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