Some of us remember the days when only a few college football teams made it to a post-season bowl game like the Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sun Bowl or Sugar Bowl. As with so many things in our society, college football has seen dramatic change, and as is also true with so many things, these changes are not necessarily good ones.
The Rose Bowl was the first and only major college bowl game in 1930, but by 1940 the number of major college bowl games had grown to five. By 1950, three more games had been created, and those eight remained as the only ones for several years. By 1970 the number had increased to 11 games, and fifteen by 1980. Bowl inflation has continued through the years until today there are more than three times as many as in 1980, fully 34 post-season games including the BCS National Championship game. Count them: thirty-four, among which we find such exotic constructs as the Poinsettia Bowl, the Insight Bowl, the Papajohns.com Bowl, the Music City Bowl, and the Humanitarian Bowl.
Up until around the 1950s, games were played solely on New Years Day, with few exceptions. This season, bowl games are played over the span of 19 days, from December 20 to January 8. It is a lot more than all but the most rabid football fans can keep up with.
The old bowl games had their problems, of course, omitting many good teams from the opportunity to play in the post-season because of the nature of the particular bowl game. For example, some bowl games were allied in part or completely with specific conferences, leaving teams in non-aligned conferences without the possibility of earning a berth, despite how good they were. And that is a good argument for changing things to include the best teams, regardless of the conference in which they play. But is the current system an improvement; does it make any sense at all?
Not from the perspective of lining up games between the strongest teams in the country, because as the number of bowl games has increased, the number of games a team needs to win to be invited to a bowl game has decreased. These days, six wins is enough to get you to the post-season, and this year two teams with a 6-6 record, losing as many games as they won, made it to a bowl game, Kentucky in the Liberty Bowl and Florida Atlantic in the Motor City Bowl. In an 11-game or 12-game season, that doesn’t say very much about some of the teams that get bowl bids. Which is not to say that two teams with a 6-6 record might not play an exciting game.
In 2008, there were only 119 full members of Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, and 68 of them were selected to play in post-season games; more than half the FBS teams – 57 percent – played in the post-season.
Some proponents will argue that the increased number of games has brought exposure and revenue to a greater number of schools, and they see this as a positive development. The operative phrase is “increased revenue” throughout college football, or at least those 68 teams who win six games during the year and get a bowl bid.
College football is more about money than about athletic competition, and that is a shame.
Maybe a championship playoff system would improve things. Certainly, a lot of people seem to think so.
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