College football is fun.
Sitting down on a Saturday afternoon and watching all the pageantry that goes into the games as well as the competitiveness of the games themselves is an enjoyable way to spend a Saturday afternoon. However, the saying “you can’t have too much of a good thing” is absolute nonsense in general, and when you toss college football bowl games into the mix, it becomes blatantly clear.
First, let’s start with some numbers. There are 128 teams in college football’s highest level of competition. If you count UAB, which took a forced vacation this season, and Coastal Carolina, who will join next year, there are 130.
Thanks to the addition of the Cure Bowl in Florida and the Arizona Bowl in – shockingly enough – Arizona, there are currently 40 bowl games in college football. If you count the College Football Playoff Final, that number jumps to 41, but since there aren’t an additional two teams picked to play in that game I’ll ignore it.
That means that 80 of the 128 teams currently in college football get to play in a bowl game, which is just under two-thirds of the total.
Other than money, what good reason is there for so many bowl games to exist? Sure, they provide exposure for teams that don’t usually get to play in front of a national audience. Unless you play in the Arizona Bowl, in which case there is no additional exposure because that particular bowl game is so new it doesn’t have a television partner. It’s being streamed online via CampusInsiders.com.
But the problem with so many bowl games is simple: dilution of the product. Even if the game were on over-the-air television or cable, who in the world would want to watch what basically boils down to a Mountain West Conference game played in Arizona? Not very many people, but there’s enough money somewhere to make it happen.
There are logistical problems too. In order to qualify for a bowl, teams usually have to win at least six games in a season. However, there weren’t enough teams this season because there were so many bowls. Three teams with losing records got picked to play in the postseason.
To be fair, and before I get too deep into the lunacy of losing teams playing bowl games, I will admit that if 0-12 Central Florida squared off against 0-12 Kansas I would tune in with all the intensity of a playoff game. That said, teams with losing records don’t belong in the postseason.
Everyone gets up-in-arms in the NFL when the possibility of a losing team making it to the postseason arises (looking at you, NFC East). The same thing happened in college football. The difference is in the NFL, however, there’s a set system for determining the postseason. If you win your division, no matter what your record is, you make the playoffs.
College football doesn’t have that, which is why they had to come up with a way to sort through the mess last week, choosing to pick teams based on high academic ranking.
It’s not going to get any better. Instead of subtracting or simply not filling bowl games if there weren’t enough participants for them, by allowing losing teams to play in the postseason college football has left itself open for a whole mess of problems.
The number of bowl games is not going down. In fact, three more games are expected to be added next season. The Medal of Honor Bowl will transition from a college all-star game to an actual bowl next year. Another unnamed bowl game in Austin, Texas was actually given permission by the NCAA to begin this year, but they decided to hold off until 2016 due to time constrains.
As recently as 2013, games were proposed in locations such as Little Rock, Dubai, Toronto and Ireland. The Shamrock Series Notre Dame has participated in hopefully eliminates Ireland from that list, but that’s not guaranteed.
Flooding the market with terrible bowl games is not a good idea, but I do think there is one game that should be added. I’m not necessarily a fan of a four-team playoff. It’s worked out well over the last two seasons, I’ll admit that, but every system is flawed and the cracks will show eventually.
Instead of jumping straight to eight teams, however, I propose a different solution: let the so-called “Power Five” conferences each receive auto-bids to the tournament with the sixth team coming from the group of five. Seed them one to six and give the top two seeds bye weeks. Does that create an awkward scenario where one of the top two seeds could go a lengthy period of time without playing? Yes, but that happens already.
Even that won’t be a perfect system, however. Fans of teams without championship games will still face the same issues the Big 12 had last season. Still, it allows all Power Five schools a chance at the championship and allows the smaller conferences a shot at a title.
Will it happen? No, probably not, the Power Five conferences don’t seem to care about the “Group of Five,” so why would they want to do change anything? Changes are needed regardless, however, because at this rate by 2025 every team will be in a bowl game and that’s ridiculous.