It’s college football bowl season. Hope you’re up to speed.
If you’re really paying attention, you watched West Virginia against Texas A&M on ESPN in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl Monday afternoon. That was followed by Clemson vs. Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl, and the time-honored AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl featuring a pair of 6-6 teams (Texas and Arkansas) at NRG Stadium in Houston Monday night.
What in the name of the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl is going on here? Anybody out there old enough to remember when the college football bowl games were actually played on New Year’s Day? When playing in a bowl game meant you were a superior football team? When we could all set our New Year’s Day watches by the Sugar Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Rose Bowl, and Orange Bowl?
Those were the golden olden days of rotary phones and long-distance calling. Today we live in an age of bowl proliferation and dilution. We’ve gone from the Big Four bowls to 18 bowls in 1994, to a whopping 38 college football bowl games in 2014-15. If the Rose Bowl is still “The granddaddy of them all,’’ what does that make the Duck Commander Independence Bowl?
“There’s too much ice cream,’’ said Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, addressing the Football Bowl Association last spring.
ESPN calls it “Capital One Bowl Mania.’’ I call it “Embarrassing Bowl Boredom.’’
Even in an era of NCAA bowl deregulation, it’s hard to find 76 bowl-eligible teams to stock the 38 games that precede the new national championship game, which will be played Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas. Bowl eligibility requires that a school own a winning record or win its conference. And said school must not be on NCAA probation.
The Fresno State Bulldogs went 6-7 during the regular season this year. They were 2-5 on the road, 0-5 in games against Associated Press top 25 teams. None of this stopped them from representing the Mountain West Conference in the Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu. Fresno won its bowl spot with a 5-3 record in conference play. When Rice defeated Fresno, 30-6, on Christmas Eve, Fresno’s “bowl” team finished with six wins and eight losses. Boola boola.
There are five new bowls this year. They are played in Miami Beach, Detroit, Boca Raton (Fla.), Montgomery (Ala.), and the Bahamas. Some of the bowl names are a mouthful. These would include the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, and the esteemed Raycom Media Camellia Bowl played in Montgomery. NASCAR must be jealous.
Why are there so many bowl games? It’s simple. It’s called “programming.’’ Those awkward holiday moments — sitting on your brother-in-law’s couch after pretending you enjoyed the mushroom soup — are somehow more tolerable if you have Illinois and Louisiana Tech jousting in high definition on the flatscreen. Nothing says “Happy Holidays” like the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Not accidentally, all but one of this year’s 38 bowl games are televised by the ABC/ESPN conglomerate.
“I keep hearing that the games don’t matter,’’ said ESPN senior vice president for news Vince Doria. “But there’s a lot of games played every weekend that don’t involve the national championship. That fact is, it’s a good thing for the schools and people watch the games.’’
Boston College’s bowl résumé nicely parallels the history of our college football bowl expansion. Between 1940 and 1943, BC played in three of the four major bowl games (1940 Cotton, 1941 Sugar, 1943 Orange), then did not come back to bowl play until Doug Flutie restored the school to grid glory in the 1980s.
After Flutie and friends won the Cotton Bowl in 1985, the Eagles started playing in the lesser-known bowls of the modern era. Since 1993, the Eagles have played in 17 bowl games, including the Carquest Bowl (Miami, 1993 season), the Jeep Aloha Bowl (Honolulu, 1994), the Continental Tire Bowl (Charlotte, 2004), and the Meineke Car Care Bowl (Charlotte, 2006). Where’s the Valvoline when you need it? Ernie Boch Jr. should have sponsored the Eagle football team at the turn of the century.
On Saturday, BC was defeated by Penn State in overtime, 31-30, in the Pinstripe Bowl at a sold-out Yankee Stadium. The Eagles finished their season 7-6.
“It’s a goal and it’s a reward,’’ said BC athletic director Brad Bates. “I don’t know what the perfect number of bowl games is, but there are obvious advantages for the schools. It’s another month of media exposure, another month for recruiting, another month to practice with your team.
“And if you manage it right, it can be an incredible regional and cultural experience. Our students went to the 9/11 Museum and the New York Stock Exchange. It was a wonderful opportunity to engage in the New York culture.’’
Bowl-participant schools are required to purchase a specified number of tickets. The University of Connecticut fell far short of its ticket minimum in 2011 and lost more than $1.6 million when it played Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona.
BC did not have a problem selling tickets for a holiday weekend game against Penn State in Yankee Stadium.
“I haven’t seen the final budget numbers, but my suspicion is that we were pretty close to breaking even,’’ said Bates. “New York is expensive, but we didn’t have to charter a plane. We work as a conference [BC is in the Atlantic Coast Conference] as to finances, and we don’t want anyone to lose money on a bowl game.’’
Bowl season resumes Tuesday with the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (Notre Dame-LSU) in Nashville at 3 p.m. on ESPN.
Happy New Year, America. Whom do you like in the TaxSlayer Bowl Friday in Jacksonville? Tennessee will finish 6-7 if Iowa wins.