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
Two early attempts to "unify" National champions were the Bowl Coalition 1992-1994 and the Bowl Alliance 1995-1997. Both were futile attempts because the available pool of teams lacked members from the Big Ten and Pac-10. This was mainly because the Rose Bowl refused to let the conferences out of their contractual agreement. They feared that they would lose their TV contract with ABC. There were differences between the two. The Coalition used 5 bowls; Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, John Hancock, and Gator Bowls. They set the bowl match-ups for the 5 games from various points accumulated in the AP and UPI polls. This also created a problem when, in 1993, an undefeated team (Virginia Tech 10-0) was not allowed to play in the championship game because of how the points worked out. The Championship was Alabama 9-1 vs. Nebraska 10-0. They rotated the championship game around only 3 of the 5 games: Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta. They also allowed NO teams from the Pac-10 and Big Ten in any of the bowl games.
The Bowl Alliance only used three bowl games in Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta, while Big Ten and Pac-10 champions were not allowed. The other teams in those conferences were allowed in as At-Large bids. They did, however, use the same point system.
In 1998 the Bowl Championship Series was created. It took a page from the Bowl Coalition in using five games. They were able to get the Rose Bowl to participate and release the Pac-10 and Big Ten conferences from their contract if needed for the Championship games. The BCS also allowed mid-majors to be included in the At-Large pool. They used the composite rankings along with a computer-generated system to determine rankings then pick the top two. This was still an imperfect system. In 2009 Boise State had a perfect record, and in 2010, Texas Christian also had an unblemished record. Both were not considered for the National Championship. In 2013 the BCS was eliminated, and the College Football Playoffs were born.
The College Football Playoffs
The system was devised to not use the polls by AP, UPI, or even the Harris computer rankings. They use a combination of strength of schedule, record, conference championships, head-to-head results, and injuries. Rankings and other metrics are submitted but used as background info only. All 10 FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) Conferences and FBS independents are allowed to be considered. The information is reviewed by a 13 member panel made up of one current AD from each Power 5 conference. The panel is then filled in by former ADs, former coaches, former players, and retired media. Members are appointed to three-year terms. They select the top four teams, and then they seed them so that 1 plays 4 and 2 plays 3. The winners meet in the National Championship game.
The semifinals are rotated between 6 major bowls: Rose, Orange, Sugar, Cotton, Fiesta, and Peach. The winners meet in the National Championship game, which is separate from the Bowl system. The National Championship game site is selected by cities bidding for the game much as they do for the NCAA Final Four. The committee also selects the matchups for the other 4 bowl games, considering outside contractual match-ups.
Even this has come under fire. Opponents point out that only selecting 4 teams for championship play, at LEAST one Power 5 school is left out. They also point out that CON-USA and Sunbelt conferences have a lower strength of schedule traditionally and therefore not likely to cut. Others would like to see 8 teams, which in theory would only add 2 more games. However, it would essentially change the bowl schedule by using two earlier bowl games that are not considered MAJOR or moving two major bowl games from New Years' to before Christmas.
Some have suggested making the playoffs separate from the bowl system. That would mean allowing MORE sub .500 teams into the bowl system or playoff teams to be allowed to play as bowl teams and playoff teams.
If I were named Czar of the NCAA, I would take these steps:
A. No regular-season games AFTER Thanksgiving
B. The amount of Bowl games would be reduced to a maximum of 20 and played the week between Christmas and New years.
C. The playoffs would consist of 12 games starting the first weekend after the end of the season. Teams will be seeded 1 -12. The top 4 seeds would get a bye, and the first weekend of games would be 5 v 12, 6 V 11, 7 v 10, 8 v 9.
The Byes would play winners of the first week in the second week, and the next week would be the Semi-Finals. Bowl week would be a break. Then the week after would be the finals. If played this year, it would look like this:
I realize that this might seem like a little much, but it would allow All conference Champions to get an Automatic bid. American, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Conference USA, Mid- American, Mountain West, Pac-12, SEC, Sun Belt, and the top FBS Independent(Army, BYU, Liberty, New Mexico St., UConn, and UMass). Then 2 teams would be selected at large. the only caveat for the independents would be they would need 9 wins to qualify.
This would take the amount of post-season teams to 52 from the Current 82 plus. It would help ensure that we don't see sub .500 teams playing in meaningless bowl games and allowing a good-sized playoff option. Plus it would leave all the PREMIER bowls in tact.
The only other idea would be to scrap ALL bowl games and expand to a 32 team playoff, which would take 5 weeks. I am not sure there is a perfect answer. I love the Bowl games, just not 40 of them. I like the idea of a playoff as well. Where is the middle ground? Who knows?
Thanks for reading