We’re going to start this by playing a game. Name the one that doesn’t belong in the following list.
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
Camping World Independence Bowl
Samsung Technology Bowl
Motel 6 Cactus Bowl
Advocare V100 Texas Bowl
If you guessed the Samsung Technology Bowl, you were correct. However, it is likely that a large portion of you guessed one of the other ridiculous-sounding bowl games, which proves the very point I am trying to make. There are too many bowl games, and receiving an invitation to any but the main few is just a participation trophy. All but the most hardcore College Football fans do not tune in to the excessive and uninteresting games that span from mid-December to just before the National Championship game, and the players are clearly not interested in playing in most of these games.
Just today, we found out that both Leonard Fournette of LSU and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford will not be playing in their respective bowl games with their teams in order to prepare for the NFL draft. While their decisions are fodder for another article and another discussion, it is a prime example of what top players think of these games. What first round NFL draft prospect wants to put their body at risk for a career-threatening injury, like the one that happened to Jaylon Smith of Notre Dame last year in his Fiesta Bowl game against Ohio State when he tore his ACL and MCL. Smith was a likely top five overall pick in the draft, and then plummeted to the beginning of the second round to be drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. He was in line for a contract in the neighborhood of four years, $23.5 million. Instead, he ended up with four years, $6.5 million ($4.5 million guaranteed). While his insurance policy allowed him to recoup some of his losses, he still missed out on a much larger contract and a year of NFL game time due to his bowl game injury.
Nobody is going to argue with Smith’s decision to play in the Fiesta Bowl, one of the most prestigious and traditional bowl games in College Football. The game was also against Ohio State, a game that likely no player would voluntarily miss, no matter the circumstances. Thus, Smith’s decision was in line with what the overwhelming majority of players would choose. However, in the case of Fournette and McCaffrey, who are playing in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl and the Hyundai Sun Bowl, respectively, it is reasonable for them to consider not playing from a purely business standpoint. When in line to make the kind of money that Jaylon Smith missed out on last year (in Fournette’s case), you are a valuable business commodity, and nobody wants to draft an injured runningback (in both players’ cases) when there are plenty of healthy ones available who are similar in skill (this year’s draft is considered extremely deep at running back). Thus, risking your value as a draft prospect to play in a bowl game primarily created to make money for the NCAA and for the sponsors for which the bowl is named does not seem like a wise decision.
So, if the players have deemed these secondary bowls as unimportant, why should the fans tune in? Aside from the most hardcore fans, most are not watching any games outside of the College Playoff Semifinal games and the Cotton Bowl, Rose Bowl, and Sugar Bowl. Thus, these games are not interesting or meaningful, and are mostly serving as participation trophies for the players and a way for the Universities and NCAA to extend the season and make money. While these reasons are perfectly reasonable for the NCAA and the Universities, as they are trying to squeeze every last penny they can out of their product, the fans do not enjoy these games, and clearly some players do not want to play in them either. It is almost a chore to watch, and the teams only make the games because they have 6 wins on the season. 6 wins is going to be our barometer for success these days? 6 wins! That is usually either a .500 record or a game just above or below a .500 season. Since when have we decided to reward such mediocrity? How about raising the bar and making bowl games actually mean something, so that it may mean something to those watching.
For these reasons, it is time for a complete overhaul to the College Football Bowl System. No more bowl games that nobody has heard of, and outcomes that nobody cares about. I propose a 16 team playoff system, with each game being a bowl game, to make the bowl games exclusive and interesting. Although this idea has been discussed before, it is time for it to take shape and give the fans something interesting to watch and something the players will care about. The top eight seeds will include the winner of each of the “Power 5” conferences, the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12, and SEC, and the next best three teams, to be determined by a committee such as the one in place now. The last eight teams will also be determined by a committee, forming a 16-team playoff system with bowl games being chosen for each game, with the last few games being the most important bowls.
This system would alleviate the issues that commonly appear in the current four team playoff, where conference winners such as Penn State miss the playoff in favor of teams that did not win their conference, but may have been more impressive throughout the season. In addition, every fan loves a tournament for the playoffs, with the sudden death nature breeding great games and electric atmospheres. Plus, that mid-major that has a great season, such as Central Michigan this year, will get a chance to prove themselves against the big boys and potentially make a Cinderella run that captivates the College Football world. This system would be the only form of games after the season, with no other bowl games occurring.
Obviously, this would pose a scheduling problem for the season, as there currently isn’t enough time after the season ends for four more weekends of football to occur. Thus, the regular season should be shortened by one game, as the first week of the season is usually against a “cupcake” mid-major or Division 1-AA team for most of the big schools. No fans will miss this game, as it is just a warm-up for most teams to flex their muscles and prepare for the season. If this were to occur, the season would start at the same time but would end a week earlier, and there would be enough time for four weeks of playoff College Football to occur, benefiting all parties involved.
The current bowl system is outdated and uninteresting, and there should be swift action by the NCAA to change the system to the 16-team playoff as described above. This would keep players like Fournette and McCaffrey from skipping the games and would increase the overall product on the field, while giving the playoffs a March Madness feel. Without this, the monotony of bowl season will continue, with the Camping World Independence Bowl and others being played in front of empty stadiums and sparse TV crowds.