My wife asked me in the midst of the bowl season, what does it really mean to win a college Bowl game? I thought of a response, but there’s no simple answer even to someone who’s followed sports for a long time. Outside of the National Championship game, what does it really mean to win a bowl game? When the bowl games first began, they were more meaningful because of their scarcity. Only a select handful of teams were chosen to play in a bowl and for one night, the entire country watched as your team took center stage.
For a lot of teams, the ultimate goal is to make it to a bowl game. Coaches will state they want to win a national championship, but with such a hard road and only one winner crowned, realistically most teams will never make it there. Coaches receive bonuses for making and winning bowl games, players receive national attention and maybe one last chance to showcase their skills before going on to the next level. Winning a bowl game could also just be about a sense of pride. If you’re someone who truly loves your sport, you want to succeed against whoever you are matched up against no matter the circumstances. But how do you cheer for teams when the games really don’t seem to mean that much?
The bowl games are the only time the entire year you will hear a Buckeye fan cheer for the maize and gold and that just comes down to conference loyalty. Each football fan wants to know that there team is the best and they are that way because their conference is the most dominant. Whether it’s SEC vs Big Ten or Pac 10 vs the ACC, the college football fan finds themselves cheering for teams they wouldn’t normally, all in the name of conference pride. At the end of the year, you can look at the bowl schedule and say, “See, I knew the SEC was dominant and these games proved it.” The reality is the bowl system is one of the most flawed systems in all of sports.
Leaving the “lack of playoff” argument out of the equation (afterall, there is no good reason why a playoff system shouldn’t exist by now in college football), the bowl schedule is the most ludicrous part of the whole bowl system. College football sets up a system that rewards consistent performance and leaves little room for error. One loss in a college season is devastating compared to the same loss in the NFL season. But you play an entire season, finally figure out how your team plays effectively with one another, and then you take a month off before playing the most important games of the year? On top of that, the bowl games keep expanding to the point that the prestige of being invited to a bowl game has all but disappeared. Add in corporate sponsorship to every aspect of the bowl season, and it’s almost become unwatchable. You take a classic bowl environment and taint it by adding, The Tostito’s Fiesta Bowl or the FedEx Orange Bowl. Place that in line with the PapaJohns.com Bowl or even worse the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl and the entire process just turns into a mockery. So as you sit around and watch Midwestern Tennessee State do battle against Tulsa, you just have to scratch your head and be constantly reminded, “Why again isn’t there a playoff system?”