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A Brief History of Bowl Games (Part V)

After tracing the history of college football bowl games in three installments, I began drawing conclusions yesterday and now, as promised, I offer my proposed changes to the Division I-A postseason.  My recommendations, while fanciful, are fourfold:  

1.  The name of a bowl game should remain distinct from the name of the corporation that sponsors it.  Originally, this was Doug's idea, but he's right, so I'm lifting it.  I recognize the financial realities of the situation, but the imposition of this most minor of limitations upon the scope of title sponsorship would go far in cutting down on the eye-rolling that many postseason contests now inspire.  

I'm not altogether sure these guys even rate a blimp, much less a bowl.

Corporate sponsors get considerable bang for their buck.  The company logo is painted at midfield, emblazoned on the players' jerseys, and plastered across every flat surface in the stadium.  News reports, television listings, and on-air commentators use the sponsor's name when previewing and describing the game.  Television viewers are inundated with advertisements pitching the sponsor's wares during commercial breaks.  The halftime festivities feature contests into which the company's primary product has been injected.  

In consideration of all of these advantages, it is a small yet significant concession to require that bowls bear names that sound like something you would name a bowl game if money were not an object and naming rights were not for sale to the highest bidder.  

The John Hancock Sun Bowl, the Capital One Citrus Bowl, and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl are acceptable, even if only marginally so; it goes too far to call these contests the John Hancock Bowl, the Capital One Bowl, and the Chick-fil-A Bowl.  Even if only partially, the traditional nomenclature of college football's bowl games must be restored to prevent the pageantry of amateur athletics from being overwhelmed entirely by a crass consumerism that is better suited to the N.F.L.  

I will promise to go to Chick-fil-A at least once a week, order a combo number one, and value-size it if they'll change the name back to the Peach Bowl.  Ah, who am I kidding . . . I'm going to do that at least once a week, anyway.

2.  College football needs a leaner postseason.  When it comes to college football, I tend to take the view that too much of a good thing is an even better thing.  While I have a difficult time persuading myself that life would be better if it contained fewer college football games, there are diminishing returns involved in watching, say, the GMAC Bowl.  

When only 55 of the 119 Division I-A college football teams won't make it into postseason play, the value of all bowl games is diminished in the same way that grade inflation in schools detracts from the worth of every graduate's diploma.  The N.C.A.A. needs to scale back the number of sanctioned outings to around 20, leaving the Alamo, Citrus, Copper, Cotton, Fiesta, Gator, Hall of Fame, Holiday, Independence, Las Vegas, Liberty, Motor City, Orange, Peach, Rose, Sugar, Sun, and Tangerine Bowls intact and jettisoning all but a couple of the others.  

3.  Automatic tie-ins between conferences and bowl games must be strengthened at the top and eliminated below.  Since non-B.C.S. conferences are gaining in prestige and influence, it is unfair to disadvantage rising programs in what sometimes are called "mid-major" leagues by eradicating the bowl games that historically have hosted such squads while leaving in place guaranteed bids for six-win teams from the middle of a major conference pack.  

Not that I wouldn't enjoy watching this guy lose a few more Independence Bowls, but . . .

Suppose, for instance, that a 10-2 Oklahoma team qualifies for an invitation to the Cotton Bowl and the Dallas-based game's arrangement with the S.E.C. requires that the other bid go to a 10-2 L.S.U. squad . . . which does not seem at all an unlikely scenario.  Now assume, as well, that T.C.U. goes 12-0, which also is plausible.  It might well be that the Bayou Bengals are more deserving of the Cotton Bowl berth than the Horned Frogs . . . but, then again, they might not be.

Cotton Bowl organizers might prefer to match Texas Christian with the Sooners, figuring that television viewers would tune in for a rematch of 2005's most surprising season-opener at the conclusion of the 2006 campaign and that attendance would be improved by the presence of a Lone Star State squad with a former Southwest Conference pedigree.  Reasonable fans might argue over which team was the more deserving, but that argument ought at least to be possible and consequential.  Weakening or abolishing conference tie-ins would create a wider range of options for intriguing match-ups in a truncated postseason.  

At the same time, the integrity of the system demands that historic connections to major bowl games be respected to the extent possible.  While I didn't much care for the Rose Bowl's whining at the end of the 2002 season---when neither Big Ten co-champion wound up in Pasadena---the organizers of the Granddaddy of 'Em All had a point.  The addition of the fifth B.C.S. contest as the designated national championship game should help in this regard, but it needs to be set in stone:  the top teams in the major conferences who are not bound for the title game must go to their traditional host bowls, period.  

In point of fact, you can spell "Fiesta" without U-G-A.

4.  New Year's Day's status as the day for playing major bowl games has to be restored.  It used to be that there were at least seven, and usually eight, college bowl games played every New Year's Day, except for those occasions when the first day of the new year fell on a Sunday and the games were rescheduled for January 2.  The number of contests slated for January 1 has dwindled over the last decade, though, and 2007 will dawn with three of the five B.C.S. bowl games being played after New Year's Day.  

January 1 has always been the day on which all the big bowl games are played, yet, this season, college football fans will ring in the new year . . . then wait a day for the Orange Bowl, two days for the Sugar Bowl, and a week for the B.C.S. National Championship Game.  Too many games are being spread out over too many days in the name of ratings.  

Some of my fondest New Year's Day memories involve debates over which should be the primary game and which should be the flipback game or trying to follow four games simultaneously without losing track of the action in any of them or asking invited guests to bring an extra T.V. with them and stringing together splitters and coaxial cables in order to have two or three games airing simultaneously.  

If this is still in good working order on January 2, it means there weren't enough football games on New Year's Day.

The enjoyment of these games is diluted when they are doled out to us with an eyedropper.  College football fans begin watching major bowl games with the knowledge that they are on the verge of eight arid months between New Year's Day and Labor Day; we deserve one final binge before being asked to go cold turkey.  

Those are my thoughts on the future of college football bowl games.  I hope you will feel free to share your own ideas in the comments below and in the diaries on the right-hand sidebar.  

Go 'Dawgs!