Nick Saban recently pointed out how the College Football Playoff and the media’s obsession over it has diminished the rest of the bowl season. Whether the playoff is to blame or not, there surely seems to be some truth behind the general sentiment around the non-playoff bowls. This year it was particularly poignant as some of the nation’s best players, (Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette) chose to sit out some of the most historic bowl games - the Sun and Citrus Bowls.
It’s not just the media and players that seem less excited about the bowls. With a focus on filling TV schedules and collecting sponsorship dollars, attendance at man of the events has been…not good:
And we are underway at the Miami Beach Bowl. 2:30 kickoffs on a Monday never great for crowds. pic.twitter.com/X1g4DAwlVv— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) December 19, 2016
So what can be done to re-assert the value of college football bowl games? Limiting the number of bowls and raising the standard for an invitation would be the obvious first step, but with the money involved that may not be realistic. That said, here are some other ways it can be done.
Award individual awards such as the Heisman after bowl games.
This would have a couple major benefits. First, it gives voters more data on which to base their vote. Would Lamar Jackson have won the Heisman after a third straight loss? Maybe, but if he did, at least it wouldn’t come with a stigma that he only won because votes were cast while other contenders still had three games left to play.
Secondly, it makes bowl games a final audition. The list of finalists for each award could be announced at the conclusion of the regular season. Then, conference title and bowl games would offer voters an opportunity to focus on key games where those players will making their final impression. As a result, players priming for a major award may be less likely to skip their bowl game and start early on NFL draft prep..
Stop climaxing so soon!
With some minor exceptions, Bowl Season starts with the least meaningful games and builds towards the semi-finals. From the Celebration Bowl to the Fiesta Bowl, games generally got more important. After the semi-finals though, you had an awkward day off to accommodate the NFL, and then major bowl games re-appeared with the Rose, Cotton, and Sugar, and Outback Bowls coming after the playoffs.
Once the semi-finals were played and the National Championship matchup was set, those games historic bowls were left to tangle awkwardly as meaningless consolation prizes. Following them, fans are left with no bowl games to tide us over until the Championship a week later? Why?
The fix is easy. Move the semi-finals to the final two time slots of New Year’s Day when most have the day off and can watch.
Finally, reward the winners if you must.
Some coaches have contractual bonuses for making bowl games and for winning them. Why not build such an incentive structure into the whole system? How much would doubt about player motivation would there be if winners got an extra goodie bag with bowl champions gear? What if bowl payouts weren’t quite an even 50-50 split, and instead the winner took home a touch more? That absolves the pesky motivation question rather quickly.
While the obvious solution may be cutting down the number of bowl games, we love extra football games, players love the trips and goodies, and television executive love the content. With that seemingly off the table, using the bowl system to showcase major award finalists, sequencing the bowls in a more logical order, and providing appropriate incentives are all ways to re-assert the value of college football bowl games.