The Dilution of the Bowl Game

What is the value of going to a bowl game for a school these days? It’s a question I pondered as I read the latest report from ESPN’s Brett McMurphy on Tuesday, who revealed that the NCAA established three more bowls - to be played in Austin, Orlando and Tucson - for the upcoming postseason. While it is exciting news for those respective cities, since all bowl games bring a huge opportunity for economic benefits, it also now brings college football to a total of 42 bowl games. 

With two teams participating in each bowl (unless the NCAA decides to throw a curve ball to fans with a WWE-like triple-threat match for a title), that means 84 teams will be heading to a bowl game this season.

So, while fans and players of six more schools can now get excited for a chance to play this December, how excited should they, and us as fans, really be? Nothing against the individual bowls themselves, like the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl or the Quick Lane Bowl, but outside of maybe 15 bowls, how much does a bowl game even mean anymore?

The threshold to make a bowl game for a team is a minimum .500 record (typically six wins). This rule was created back in 2006, when the BCS Championship became a standalone event for the first time. At that time, there were only 32 bowl games and the rules were relaxed to provide the opportunity for more schools to participate. 

From this, we have come to a point where 65% of teams are now going to be participating in a bowl game. Last year alone, thanks to the .500 rule, we had 14 teams who either finished under .500 or could have had they lost in their postseason game. That’s nearing one-fifth of all schools that played. Now with 42 bowl games, that number could potentially become a quarter of the field depending on results. 

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Credit: Crystial LoGiudice/USA TODAY Sports

Bowl games are supposed to be about rewarding schools by providing them and their fans with the opportunity to win a trophy to cap off a great season. Instead, we now have a bowl system where money from partners trumps bowl prestige. The devaluation of the bowls is further amplified by a College Playoff System that now delineates a line of demarcation between the marquee bowls and the scrap bowls. 

What is left are games that ESPN dominates from the media-side, and both they and the NCAA use to drive revenue from partners without any regard for the quality of the game. 

We, as fans, can thank ourselves for this situation, as the premise for these decisions is that we will watch football whenever and wherever it is on. Should the number of bowls stay at 42, it would behoove us fans to make a difference and let it be known that the bowl season is about quality over quantity.  

Let’s do what we can (like not watch those non-impactful bowls) and restore prestige to what is now a diluted postseason. In the end, it will benefit the NCAA, fans, schools, and sponsors alike, to reduce the amount of bowls and give back credibility and restore the reputation of the bowl season by making it meaningful again. 

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