College Football Bowl games vs Championship




Growing up in the 70s, I would always look forward to the college bowl games this time of the year. You had a few on December 31st then, January one was THE DAY. The Cotton Bowl, The Peach Bowl, the Rose Bowl, The Sugar Bowl, and the Orange Bowl. Between 1970 and 1980, there were 11 to 15 college Bowl games. The tradition of the match-ups was fun; Big Ten Vs. Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl, the Peach Bowl SEC vs. ACC. Then there was seeing teams from conferences we didn't always watch like the WAC, Southern Conference, and the MAC.

This year we will have 40 bowl games plus the National Championship. But how did we get here, and have we watered down the Bowl system or, even worse, made it irrelevant?


The Granddaddy of them all

The First Bowl game was the Tournament of Roses Game in 1902 between the University of Michigan and the University of Stanford, which was won by Michigan 49-0. In 1916 the football game, then deemed the Rose Bowl Game (because of the stadium's name, The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California), became an annual event. It mostly was a West vs. East game as they drew from winning teams in the then Pacific Coast Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. A similar winning team from the East, regardless of the conference, was chosen; teams like Brown, Navy, Tulane, Alabama, and Duke. (In 1947, it became Pac-10 vs. Big Ten). It was the only game of its kind for 19 years.


Then in 1935, more Bowls came along.

The Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida. The game actually started in 1932 as the Palms Bowl festival featuring the University of Miami vs. an at-large team. The NCAA did not recognize it as a bowl game because it featured a guaranteed spot regardless of record. The format was changed in 1935, along with the name to the Orange Bowl.


The List Keeps Growing

Business leaders brought about the Sugar Bowl to promote a positive economic climate for New Orleans. It was also to promote amateur sports. The SEC has been the predominant conference represented in the game that currently pits the SEC vs. the Big 12


The Sun Bowl (briefly the John Hancock Bowl 1989-1993) is held in El Paso, Texas. The first Sun Bowl was played by two High School teams and was meant to be a fundraiser for underprivileged children. Starting as the Border Conference vs. At large, it has shifted over the years and currently works with the ACC and PAC-12 teams.


In 1937 the Cotton Bowl joined the group and featured the Southwest Conference winner vs. the field, until the conference's disbandment in 1996. It now features a Southeastern Conference team against a Big 12 team.


It would be eight years before more bowls were added, with the Gator Bowl in 1945 and Citrus Bowl in 1946. By 1970 there were eleven official bowl games and fifteen by 1980. In all, 31 bowl games have come and gone. Some just changed names every few years depending on sponsors, games such as the Quick Lane Bowl, the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, The Motor City Bowl, and the Ford Motor City Bowl. There are bowls that few fans have heard of Unless their teams have played in them. Games such as the Arizona Bowl 2015, the Cure Bowl 2015, the Frisco Bowl 2017, and the Myrtle Beach bowl 2020. Coming in 2021, The Fenway Bowl and the LA Bowl. So presuming no bowls are lost next year, there will be 86 teams playing in the college "postseason.” In 2019, the last FULL season, like many teams this year played an abbreviated schedule, only 71 teams had a winning record, and only 6 schools had 6-6 records. That means at least 7 teams would come into bowl games with LESS than a .500 record in a normal year. To me, college bowl games are supposed to represent the best of college football. There never used to be a participation entry. In short, we have way TOO many Bowl games.


The Hunger for a Playoff System.

Since the game has been played in college, there has always been the urge to name the best of the National Champion. Throughout the early 1900s, the concept of naming a National Champion was toyed with. Different mathematical systems were developed and used from about 1926-1936. The Associated Press (AP) began the idea of polling sportswriters from around the country in 1936. In1950, the United Press (later United Press International - UPI) created the Coaches Poll. This led to many differences of opinion, the first in 1954 (in all, there were 10 different occasions that the AP and UPI disagreed). Before 1965, the polls were released BEFORE the bowl games. In 1965 the AP released their poll after the Bowl games again, leading to different National Champions than that of the UPI. in 1966 and 67, the AP went back to Pre-Bowl game polls. Then in 1968, they permanently switched to releasing their polls after the Bowl games. The UPI continued to release their poll before the bowl games until 1974. The bowls did try to facilitate by getting the top teams to play in the major bowls like the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Sun, Peach, and Gator Bowls. However, because many bowl games had conference restrictions, such as the Rose Bowl, which matched the Pac-10/PAC-12 vs. the Big Ten, or the SEC being tied to the Sugar Bowl, often the two TOP ranked teams never met in a bowl game.


Early Attempts at Unifying