Fixing The Bloated College Bowl Game Structure

Harry How

There are too many bowls today. Let's make a bowl game mean something again.

One thing fans complain about is the sheer number of college football bowl games. There are now 35 of them, meaning more teams (70) get to play a postseason bowl game than those that stay home (54). More teams make a bowl game than make the NCAA Tournament despite there being over 340 Division I basketball programs. It has even gotten so bad that losing teams can make bowl games now.

It used to be that a bowl game meant something. Now you can pack your scheduled with an FCS teams, three teams from the dregs of the MAC, then hope you win two conference games. Seriously. Illinois got into a bowl game in 2011 despite going 2-6 in the Big Ten and not even showing up for the second half of the season. It's just ridiculous (but also funny that Indiana STILL can't make a bowl).

This has to stop somewhere, and I propose radical changes:

Keep the Playoff, but expand it - We finally got what we wanted in a college football playoff, but it only has four teams. People throw enough of a fit when years happen with just one undefeated and 3-4 one-loss teams battle for the No. 2 spot. What's going to happen going forward is the fifth-place team will whine instead of the third place team. I know it will happen because we whine about the 39th best at large basketball team being left out every March.

It is only a matter of time until the playoff expands, but why not go whole hog? Expand it to 10 teams. Yes, this is an arbitrary number, but I have a point. There are currently 10 FBS football conferences. You know where this is going now:

You can only make the playoff if you win your conference.

This will likely cause the most outrage, but I don't care. I have argued for years that teams with a losing record in their conference have no business getting into the NCAA basketball tournament and this follows roughly the same premise. In a sport like college football, where every conference has tie-breaking procedures and almost all the major conferences have a conference championship game there is no excuse for a team that isn't a conference champion becoming a National Champion.

Don't want to bitch? Then don't lose. Nebraska has no business getting into the 2002 title game against Miami when they couldn't even win their division in the Big 12. Alabama should have never gotten a rematch with LSU a few years ago because the Tigers already beat them and won the SEC West. With 10 teams you can give the two best a bye as a reward, then seed up the rest. The SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, and ACC already have a virtual playoff among the major conferences. In the smaller conferences the MAC, Conference USA, and Mountain West have a title game too. If you're not good enough to get to these events you have no business getting into the playoff.

The conference championship games already act like an extra round of playoffs in this scenario, and if you can't make it at least that far out of a 14-team Super Conference you're not good enough to be called the best in the nation.

Oh, and as far as independents go, you know what's next. Join a conference. If you really want to play of National Championships get on the same playing field as everyone else. You know who you are.

The rest of the bowls - We have 10 teams that make our playoffs, but what about everyone else? I agree that some very good teams would be left out of the playoff, but they can still go the postseason by keeping the bowls. Let's just make the bowls matter again. No more teams squeezing in at 6-6 or with a losing conference record. You have 30 bowl slots. win at least 7 games and don't finish with worse than a .500 record in your league and you can get in. That's why in my world there are only 15 "real" bowl games.

The playoffs can be held on campus according to seeds then rotate to different stadiums for the semifinals and final, but the better bowls get to stay alive.

If you're a bowl that's been sponsored by a .com, you're out!

If you didn't play your first game before the turn of the century, you're out as a bowl!

Here are some of 15 I would keep: Rose, Cotton, Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, Sun, Peach (screw Chick-fil-a, free the Peach Bowl), Gator, Capitol One, Outback, Holiday, Hawaii.

Bowls should be rewards for a good season and they need to be played in warm weather cities. I have been to two bowl games for Purdue: the Rose and the Little Caesar's. In one it was played in a dome, but freezing outside in the middle of Detroit in December. Purdue won. The other was a loss, but was played in vibrant sunshine on New Year's Day. If getting the outside temperature to 50 degrees is a pipe dream for your bowl game, well, you don't deserve a bowl game. Which one did I enjoy more?

There are still three bowls left because only 12 above have met the criteria of having a good history or being in a warm weather city. What can our other three bowls be?

Bacardi Bowl - Sure, the NCAA will balk at there being an alcohol sponsor, but would it really be the worst thing the NCAA has ever done? The Bacardi Bowl has been played seven times before and what makes it stand out is its location.

Havana, Cuba!

Look, we all know communism is eventually going to fall. Why not bash it down with some hard-core American tourist dollars?

Puerto Rico Bowl - It's warm and may be a new state before too long, so they deserve some big time college football as well.

Oil Bowl - Texas has tons of good football recruiting grounds but its largest city, doesn't have a bowl game in this scenario. We fix it by renaming the WhateverTheHellTheTexas Bowl is called, increase its profile, and BAM! New, quality bowl game.

So that leaves 40 teams in the official postseason. You know you're going to get quality games and hopefully none like Oklahoma State, who was way too good for the Heart of Dallas Bowl, against Purdue, who wheezed into a bowl 3 slots above what it deserved and got crushed. You make the regular season mean something by limiting no more than four additional bowl bids per conference (beyond the playoff) and you make the bowls themselves pick any team they want like a giant fantasy draft. That shifts the games and creates new matchups as opposed to South Carolina in the Outback bowl every. Single. Year.

Who wouldn't want to see an SEC team actually have to play a bowl game outside of its footprint? The Big 12 can return to its historical roots in the Orange Bowl too.

What about the other teams?

Woe is the 6-6 Big Ten team that beat an FCS school, three directional Michigans, Indiana, and Illinois. There is no official bowl, but if you do make it to .500 you can get a special pass to hold regular practices and play in another game. The only difference is you have to organize it yourself and it has to be hosted at a campus site. You also cannot host said game in consecutive "consolation bowl" years.

There is even something for the really bad teams.

The Toilet Bowl - If there are two winless teams at the FBS level we create the special Toilet Bowl. It will be played in Fargo, North Dakota on a high school field and the loser gets 10 extra scholarships for four years in order to get better.

The Double-Or-Nothing Bowl - Putting up an 0-fer is doubling embarrassing if you do it in a BCS level conference. It has been done, however, most recently by Washington in 2008. If you are a BCS conference team and you finish 0-12 you have to play the reigning FCS champion on its home field. Win, and you can stay in FBS. Lose, and they get your spot in the BCS conference while you're sent down to FCS for a minimum of five years.

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