By MARK KNUDSON
The complaint: “There are just too many college football bowl games.”
That’s a popular refrain this time of year, when pundits grouse about “having” to watch “meaningless” games between 6-6 teams played in unusual locations – ranging from Boise to the Bahamas – with sponsor names like “R+L Carriers” that many of them haven’t heard of (and isn’t the point of paying for a sponsorship like? To build name recognition for your product or service?) It’s as if it’s some sort of affront to the sensibilities of decent sports fans to be forced to endure this visual torture.
The fact of the matter: There are NOT too many college football bowls. Are there too many reality TV shows?
That’s actually what we’re talking about here. It’s what the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl is: Sports Reality TV. I don’t watch “Real Housewives of Orange County” or “Marriage Boot Camp” because I’m not even slightly interested. If you’re not interested in seeing two middling college football teams play for pride and “AutoNation Cure Bowl Champions” T-shirts, then don’t watch.
The TV networks, specifically ESPN, which owns most of the lower-tier college bowl games – aren’t forcing anything on viewers that we haven’t asked for. Who cares if there are 10,000 friends and family members in the stands? Attendance at the games is secondary. The network needs programming, and since when have we wanted LESS football? We’ll tune in to watch spring football scrimmages in April and reruns of games played three decades ago over the summer. There’s a 24/7/365 sports-news cycle to fill. Would you prefer more reruns of SportsCenter or perhaps the World Curling Championship to fill out your holiday programming guide?
So while the NCAA has had to dip into the losers bracket and select a few 5-7 teams to fill all 80 bowl slots, it’s worth it if we get to watch more college football, whether the teams are championship caliber or not.
The bigger issue should be how to treat the stars of these sports reality TV shows a little bit better.
The players who participate in the college football play-off games are trying to win a championship. That’s reward enough. As for the participants in all the other games, they do get nice gifts from the bowl games and their sponsors, but the experience itself should be more memorable. Teams that get to go to the Bahamas to play a football game in December are getting such a reward. Teams that are given a trip to Boise in December? Not so much. Was that a Zamboni on the field at halftime of the Idaho – Colorado State Potato Bowl game? Might as well have been. CSU sold about 500 tickets for the Potato Bowl, largely because making the eight hour drive through the Rocky Mountains in December is not something one chooses to do if you don’t have to.
There should not be a post-season bowl game in Boise, Idaho. That’s more punishment than reward.
Boise isn’t the only bad location choice for bowl games. The weather can be lousy in Detroit (Motor City Bowl) and New York City (Pinstripe Bowl) in December, too. But it’s about more than just the weather. Bowl destinations should be places players and fans would want to travel to on a vacation, as a reward. To that end, NYC would qualify. Montgomery, Alabama? Shreveport, Louisiana? Boise? Perhaps not.
Furthermore, college football teams should not have to play bowl games (aside from the big ones) on their home fields. The New Mexico players didn’t get to travel after earning a bowl bid this season. Neither did the players from Hawaii or Central Florida. Others like Louisiana-Lafayette, Miami, Texas A&M and Tennessee got short bus trips to places they probably frequent anyway. That reward would be greater if given an airplane trip somewhere.
There should be more bowl games in places like Boca Raton.
And there probably will be at some point. The NCAA has put a cap on the number of college bowls at 40…for now. But what happens when the Rams new stadium opens up in LA? You can bet they’ll want a bowl game or two (maybe they could move the Potato Bowl there?) If the play-off gets expanded that could open up a couple more spots…and at some point, FCS teams who aren’t in their play-offs that season, like North Dakota State for example – a program that plays and defeats FBS teams with regularity during the season – could be made eligible for lower tier bowls. Why not?
The desire for more sports reality TV isn’t going to go away. If anything, it will grow. More football. Who’s complaining?