How the Bowl System is Ruining College Football

I’m not sure what it is about this bowl season, but for one reason or another, I have simply finally had it with the current way that college football is being run.  I’m not even talking about the need for a playoff system (which make no mistake, I’m for), but even as things stand now, the bowl system is becoming a joke and a shell of itself.

I’ve always been at least moderately interested in the bowl season, and especially the BCS.  Let’s be honest here, if you give me good football on the field, I will tune in and be happy.  Sure, I’ll complain about the lack of a clear champion and playoff system, but I will at least be moderately satisfied even if I don’t have a dog in the fight.

This year however, I haven’t really been entertained in the least save for a handful of games.  On top of that, I haven’t exactly been to thrilled with the prospect of many of the matchups I have to choose from.  By doing a quick analysis, it isn’t hard to see why this year’s bowl season has fallen completely flat, and many of the bowls struggled to sell tickets.

Only nine of the thirty-three bowl games have featured matchups that pit two top-25 teams against each other.  Of course, five of these games are BCS bowls, meaning only four other bowl games got what would be a high-profile game.

But of course, rankings only mean so much, competitive football can still be compelling as we all know.  However, even putting that litmus test on this year’s bowl offerings still doesn’t help the bowl system’s cause.  Only 13 of the 33 games played thus far have been decided by a difference of a single possession (8 points or less).  That means only 39.3% of the games have even been what could be considered compelling football that goes down to the wire.  Even worse, what should be considered high-profile matchups have fallen flat on their faces too.  Of the 8 bowl games played so far that pitted two top-25 teams against each other, only 3 of those games have been decided by a difference of a single possession.  That would be a grand total of only 37.5% of those “big-time” bowl games being competitive.

Well what of our marque bowl games of the BCS?  Well, the only game decided by a single possession was the Fiesta Bowl.  That’s right, thus far the only game that has given us a game down to the wire came courtesy of two non-BCS teams.

And our title game? Very few people are even giving Texas a chance to hold a candle to Alabama (even though the line on the game is sitting at 4.5 in favor of the Tide).  Even if this game stays competitive though, that is only 2 of 5 (40%) of BCS games that would be considered highly competitive.

All of these percentages would be awesome for batting averages; however, when you are trying to put together a compelling postseason, as well as try to claim it is more compelling than a playoff, it is simply awful.

So why is this happening?  Simple, this style of postseason is easy to take advantage of and damn near anyone can get in.  The BCS loves to say playoffs are awful because of what they call “bracket creep”.  Basically, “bracket creep” is the theory that once you start making playoffs, you allow more teams to creep into the bracket.  Their favorite scapegoat is the NCAA Basketball tourney that features 65 teams.  They very rightly show how the tourney started much smaller and then grew to what it is now, and further point out that there are some that would like to see it grow further.

However, this slippery-slope theory is highly misguided.  There are 347 Division I Basketball teams that have a shot to make the tournament.  Only 65 of those teams will make the Big Dance, equating to only 18.7% of the teams making it.  The cream of the crop is definitely the only ones able to make postseason play.  However, Division I Basketball does have their own “lesser bowl” in the NIT tournament, which invites 32 teams annually.  So that combines for a total of 97 teams making it to some form of postseason play, equating to just under 28% of all Division I Basketball.  Even with the extra tourney involved, you are still getting the even less than the upper third of all teams involved.

But what of football?  Well, if you consider the BCS the cream-of-the-crop “Big Dance” type system, only 10 teams make that.  Considering there are 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, that means 8.3% of all FBS teams make the big time.  Pretty elite there.  However, what happens when we throw the other bowl games into the picture?  This year, 34 bowl games will be played, meaning we had 68 teams involved in postseason play.  That means 56.7% of all FBS teams made postseason play. Yes, over half of all FBS teams were able to take part in the “prestige and tradition” that is the bowl season.

While the BCS talking heads love to talk of “bracket creep”, we have quickly been slammed with “bowl creep”.  If NCAA hoops were to take this approach to their postseason play, both the Big Dance and NIT would need to combine to allow 172 teams into their postseason, equating to a first round of around 86 games. That would mean the NCAA postseason would easily eclipse 100 games…in just two rounds of play… Oh, and doing that would put in just under half off all Division I teams, football would still have more teams in postseason play percentage-wise.

Not only that, two more bowl games have been announced for college football in 2010.  That means 36 games will be played and 72 teams will play, meaning, in 2010, 60% of all FBS teams will be involved in postseason play.

Simply put, the bowl system has completely over-saturated college football’s postseason.  While the BCS is creating competition for the upper 10% of college football, beyond that everyone else is just looking to become bowl eligible.  The regular season then becomes a race to six wins for anyone not in the BCS or title picture, and one of those wins can be against a FCS (formerly Division I-AA) school.  All this does is lead to cupcake non-conference schedules in the regular season that “should be like a playoff” according to anyone in support of the bowl system.

When teams like Wyoming can make a bowl (and win…where did that come from?) and Notre Dame can even have the option to decline after going 6-6, something is very, very wrong.

These bowls used to mean something.  January 1st was college football day.  If you played in a New Year’s Day bowl, you have arrived.  With more bowl games, we were still fine, New Year’s Day was still special, and even served as a cutoff date between the crappy bowl games and the awesome ones.

Now the GMAC Bowl is played a day before the BCS Championship.  Someone restrain my excitement.

If college football is going to be so stubborn as to refuse to have a playoff, can we at least have a bowl postseason that’s worth a damn?  I don’t want to shift through games that involve teams that are .500 or barely over it.  Conference pissing matches don’t entertain me either.  Congrats, your conference won a couple more crappy bowl games than another conference, it doesn’t mean squat.

I don’t want to hear another BCS/Bowl System talking head talk about the “history and prestige” of this system when the majority of these bowls are rather recent developments.  You want to sell me on history and prestige, let’s make these suckers mean something to get into again.  I want to see no more than the upper third of FBS teams duking it out.  That would be 40 teams, and 20 bowl games.  To be honest that would still likely be too many; however, it would cut the majority of the suck out of the bowl season.  By cutting down the number of teams you take it, you will likely not be able to have a magic number of wins as a cutoff.

And that changes everything.

Getting 6, 7 and likely even 8 wins means nothing.  There will be far more than 40 teams around the 7 or 8 win mark.  Then bowl games have to look at the better teams to pick, and how do you do that? Strength of schedule.  Now playing those cupcake teams starts to really sting when even 8 wins fails to secure a bowl bid, forcing teams to schedule tougher opponents and avoiding the dodging of teams like TCU and Boise State.  This would make the regular season even more intriguing and create several more solid non-conference games than we have seen in a long time.

However, as it stands now, expect to see much of the same: top tier teams that see no reason to schedule tough non-conference opponents and lesser tier teams doing whatever they can to schedule their way into becoming bowl eligible.

Thank God we aren’t bothering with an awful playoff system, this is much better…