As much as college football needs an eight-team playoff, there are more pressing concerns right now.
Like fixing the rest of the bowl system.
Unless you’re an alum of, say, Nebraska, Nevada orAuburn, you may not have realized what an overgrown mess the bowls have become. And I’m not just talking about the names of some of these games. (The Cure Bowl? Is that similar to the old Fight Hunger Bowl? Or are organizers just huge Robert Smith fans?)
With a whopping 40 of them this year, bowl games have become college football’s equivalent of the participation trophy. Seriously. There are 127 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, which means only about a third will miss out on the headphones, sunglasses, watches, gift cards and whatever else is stuffed into those goodie bags.
There are so many bowl games the NCAA had to amend its rules — again — just so there’d be enough teams to fill all of them. Long gone are the days when teams had to have seven wins to earn a trip to a bowl game. Now you don’t even need a winning record.
It’s so bad, in fact, that more than a dozen teams with records of .500 or below “earned” the privilege of playing in the postseason. Of those, three are 5-7. But hey, they were selected based on their Academic Progress Rate, so that makes it all OK.
Tell that to the folks who somehow get suckered into buying tickets for the unfortunately named Cure Bowl, which pits 5-7 San Jose State vs. 6-6 Georgia State. Or the Mediocrity Bowl, aka the Independence Bowl, where either Tulsa (6-6) or Virginia Tech (6-6) will finish with a winning record only because somebody has to.
Then there’s the travesty of the Arizona Bowl, which features Nevada against Colorado State.
For those unfamiliar with football beyond the Mississippi River, Nevada and Colorado State are both members of the Mountain West Conference, making the Arizona Bowl no better than a glorified regular-season game. MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson was understandably livid about it, issuing a statement Sunday in which he blistered the NCAA and his fellow commissioners for favoring conference agreements with the bowls over, oh, I don’t know, common sense.
Instead of placing the teams with better — and I use that term loosely — records first, the commissioners and bowls stuck to their historical partnerships and back-up agreements. Which is how 7-5 Colorado State wound up playing a conference opponent while a 5-7 Nebraska team plays UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl.
“Clearly, the system is broken,” Thompson said in his statement. “There is an excess of bowl games due in part to a disparate allocation of openings vs. conference bowl histories. The result is teams with sub-.500 records participating in bowl games. There is consensus change is needed and this year’s outcome must not be repeated.”
Not that the NCAA, the other conferences or the bowls really care.
With the exception of the biggies — Citrus, Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Outback, Peach, Rose and Sugar — bowl games exist solely to provide programming for the broadcast partners of the NCAA and its conferences. The stadium can be half-empty and it won’t matter so long as the TV cameras are rolling and the rights fees have been paid.
The same universities who are crying poor over paying the full cost of attendance happily go along with the charade and expense of these meaningless games because it gives them bragging rights. Who cares that no one knows what or where the Belk Bowl is? If the alums and donors are happy and proud, they’re more likely to keep writing those big, fat checks.
One of the arguments against the creation and now expansion of the College Football Playoff is that it would come at the expense of the other bowls. That a playoff would gut the time-honored traditions fans have come to know and love.
Please. The bowl system and everyone connected with it sold their souls long ago, making this year’s debacle as inevitable as it is embarrassing.
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.