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Friday, March 1, 2024
The Observer

Thomas: Stop rewarding mediocrity, a 5-step criticism of College Football’s bowl season

Bowl games. 

Wow, there’s a lot I would like to say on the topic, so my challenge here is limiting myself to about 1,000 words on how much I hate the bowl system. Here’s to hoping I can control my ranting in this top five list of things I would change about how the system currently works (assuming we are sticking with a four-team playoff as of now). 

Restrict the bids 

Seventy-eight of 130 FBS teams made a bowl game this year. That’s not special. It is the ultimate reward of mediocrity. Playoffs and postseason games should be for the top teams, but it’s becoming harder to miss a bowl game than to make one. Dec. 20 will mark the first bowl game and it is … *checks notes* ... a battle between Buffalo and Charlotte at 2 p.m. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone not from those schools watching the game. It’s a game between two mediocre teams who are being rewarded for mediocre seasons. Headliners will make Charlotte’s bid a feel-good story. At 6-6, they are in a bowl for the first time ever, but college football isn’t a place for cute stories.

If you want to cheer on an underdog like Memphis in their New Year’s Six Bowl Game, go ahead; however, this logic of giving middling teams something to shoot for just doesn’t fit the nature of the competitive sport. 

To give another example, look at Boston College or Florida State. These are two prominent ACC programs — nobody really considers them your classic underdog story. BC continues to make bowl games via 6-6 or 7-5 records, much like Florida State, who makes their second bowl in three years, both times with a .500 record. While the six win threshold offers hope to some smaller programs, it also fills up meaningless bowl games with under-achieving Power Five schools, something very few people want to watch. 

Make the restrictions eight wins, and you’ll get way better games. If you truly want every team to have a shot, then make it based on conference — the top six teams in Power Five conferences and the top four in Group of Five conferences. You’d still have 25 bowl games, and the games would be of higher quality. Bowl games already mean extremely little, so the least the NCAA can do is stop rewarding mediocre football teams. 

Get rid of Conference and Group of Five requirements

This is targeted towards the New Year’s Six Bowl Games. The New Year’s Six (NY6) is generally considered the next best thing for non-playoff teams, the elite matchups of teams that just missed the selective cut for the semifinals. But conference requirements are ruining these games. One specific example is the Orange Bowl, which sees the Florida Gators (an elite 10-2 team) take on the Virginia Cavaliers, a team which barely finished the season ranked and is sitting at 9-4 with losses to Miami and Louisville. To top it off, they just lost by 45 points to Clemson. They’re not worthy of a New Year’s Six Game, but they get it because of a random conference requirement.

The same also goes from the Group of Five requirements; the game becomes a nightmare for one team and a dream for the other. Elite bowl games should feature two highly ranked powerhouses. No disrespect to Memphis, but nobody wants to play them because there is little to gain and everything to lose in that matchup. Memphis is 11-1, but they’re ranked 17th in the country — their resume doesn’t support a top six bowl game, so don’t put them in one. Rankings mean little when these requirements must be filled. When No. 11 Utah and No. 12 Auburn are left out of the NY6 in favor of Memphis and Virginia, one questions how meaningful even the elite bowl games are? 

Offer incentives

Bowl games will become even more boring if teams’ superstars continue to drop out. Even outside the NY6 games, there’s plenty of elite prospects in these bowl games, many who will not participate due to injury risk. One prime game I’m looking forward to is Alabama versus Michigan, but that juicy matchup could be spoiled if multiple stars elect to stay on the sideline. If the NCAA wants these games to be marketable and enjoyable, they need to find a way to incentivize players into playing a game that has no actual meaning. 

More equal matchups

No. 15 Notre Dame vs. a 7-5 Iowa State team? No. 11 Utah versus a 7-5 Texas squad? Air Force, ranked 25th with a 10-2 record, taking on Washington State (6-6)? These matchups make no sense. The higher ranked teams deserve better matchups, and this will also encourage more players to play in bowl games. Would you blame Irish star senior wide receiver Chase Claypool if he sits out a meaningless game versus a mediocre Big 12 team? Or Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley for deciding not to risk injury against a team surviving on their brand name? I wouldn’t either. The CFP committee should be in charge of more than just the NY6, because some of the matchups that are being selected are unappealing for fans and disrespectful to elite teams. Give good teams good games and don’t rely on brand name to sell their appeal.

Flip the schedule

Finally, no team should be playing once the College Football Playoff starts. Wyoming, Georgia State, Western Kentucky, Illinois and Arizona State are just a few of the teams that will get to play after two of the top four teams are eliminated. It’s not a major deal, and this doesn’t affect the quality of the actual games, but in my opinion, the top four teams should be the last four teams standing. Once I’ve watched Clemson engage in a clash of titans with Ohio State, I don’t want to see Louisville and Mississippi State playing each other two days later. Much of the playoff appeal in every sport is the ongoing tension, with every game having so much at stake. Throwing in pointless bowl games between the semifinals and finals kills this tension. I want the last three games of the year to be between the best four teams in the country. End of story.

Alright, my rant is over — for now. The bowl game system is absolutely ridiculous, and it gets more meaningless every year. Make bowl games a reward again, and give fans and players the matchups they want.