There are several injustices in sports that need to be addressed. Pete Rose isn’t in the Hall of Fame. The Designated Hitter Rule still exists. FIFA still manages international soccer. But the most egregious crime against sports remains the utterly ridiculous, outdated, arcane, and stupid system that is the college bowl system.
Sure, something resembling a playoff system exists, at least as far as it determines the national champion, but with only four teams, selected by a committee, it’s less of a playoff and more of a farce designed to convince fans that there’s a playoff when actually there isn’t one. And sure, it’s a far cry from the previous system, which involved the national champion being determined by a committee, but it’s still ridiculous.
The current version of the college bowl system has got to go.
The Origins of The Bowl System: Bringing College Football To Our Town
Prior to the turn of the century, according to Barry’s Tickets, there was no college football after the regular season. The season just… ended. However, in 1902 the city of Pasadena, California, needed something to draw people to the town in January, and the town fathers decided a college football game was just the ticket (see what I did there?). Originally called the East-West game, the original Rose Bowl at first pitted a team from the east against a team from the west, metaphorically uniting the two halves of the country on the gridiron.
Are you ready to smell the?????????????!?
— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) December 4, 2016
Soon, other cities wanted in on that action. New Orleans gave us the Sugar Bowl. Miami hosted the Orange Bowl. Dallas got the Cotton Bowl. Other cities got other bowls, prestigious and not so prestigious. The system expanded until, as of this writing, there are 40 bowl games.
If The Bowl System Existed In Other Sports
To get an idea of just how ridiculous the bowl system is, here’s a thought experiment: apply it to other sports. For this thought experiment, we’ll apply it to the National Football League. We’ll use the 2015-2016 season as our guide.
In 2015, 65 percent of NCAA Division I football teams (excluding FCS — more on that later) qualified for a bowl game, according to the Coloradoan. If we apply that to the NFL, where there are 32 teams, that means that 20 teams would have made the post-season (actually 20.8, but we’ll round up for simplicity’s sake and for the sake of an even number of teams).
Four teams would have played in a brief, two-game playoff system, as selected by a group of sports writers. Assuming those writers picked the top four teams, and the two top teams played each other, the Carolina Panthers (15-1) would have played the Arizona Cardinals (13-3) in the Whatever Bowl in Some City, while the New England Patriots (12-4) and Denver Broncos (12-4) would have played in the If You Say So Bowl in Some Other City, followed by a championship game a week or so later, called the Awesome Bowl in Yet Another City, between the winners of those games.
Meanwhile, elsewhere throughout the country, there would be eight other games that mean absolutely nothing, including such can’t-miss matchups as the New Orleans Saints (7-9) against the Indianapolis Colts (8-8) in the You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me Bowl in Ypsilanti, or the Buffalo Bills (8-8) and Oakland Raiders (7-9) in the Enough Already Bowl in Duluth.
And each of those eight other bowl games would be just as meaningless as the TaxSlayer Bowl and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (actual college bowl games that have been played in recent years).
The NCAA Actually Has A Football Playoff System, Just Not For Top-Tier Division I Teams
When March rolls around, you’ll see the colleges big and small in the mix — teams like Michigan and North Carolina compete in the same tournament as teams like Florida Gulf Coast University and Washburn University. That’s because the NCAA doesn’t see any distinction between Division I teams as regards basketball.
However, the NCAA splits its Division I football teams into two groups; the bigger and more prestigious group, the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision), which includes football powerhouses like Alabama and Notre Dame, and the smaller group, called FCS (Football Championship Subdivision), which includes smaller schools, that compete at Division I in other sports but not football, such as Western Illinois or Fordham.
As you might have already guessed, the FBS relies on the bowl system to determine the National Champion. The FCS relies on — surprise! surprise! — a playoff system. Specifically, the FBS uses a 24-team, single-elimination tournament to determine the champion.
— visitfrisco (@visitfrisco) December 6, 2016
The existence of the FCS illustrates two points: first of all, the notion that a playoff system for the college football championship is too long and too hard on the players is nonsense. Second, it’s evidence that the NCAA knows what it’s doing, it just doesn’t want to upset the apple cart and lose all of that revenue that the bowl system generates.
By my math, a 24-game single-elimination tournament produces 23 games. All the NCAA has to do is convince the sponsors of the top 23 of the 40 current bowl games to sponsor a game in the tournament. The remaining 17 bowl games can go on, continuing to pit middling teams against one another in meaningless games. In other words, exactly what the majority of today’s bowl games already are: meaningless games between middling teams.
In fact, by assigning meaning to more than just three of the existing bowl games, a playoff system would generate even more revenue and more interest than the current system.
It’s a win-win. But for some reason, the NCAA doesn’t see it that way, probably because someone has convinced them that there’s more money to be made in ridiculous bowl games. And college football fans just accept it, because why mess with a hundred-year-old tradition that works (except it doesn’t)?
Do you think the bowl system is the right way to handle post-season college football?
[Featured Image by Aspen Photo/Shutterstock]