SportsPulse: Did your team make USA TODAY Sports’ college football post-spring top 25? Paul Myerberg breaks it all down.
USA TODAY Sports
The flimsiest argument against the creation of the College Football Playoff claimed that installing the new postseason format would diminish the importance of those bowl games outside the Playoff picture — i.e., every bowl other than those counted among the New Year’s Six.
That thought was always off. Those bowls were meaningless before, during the era of Bowl Championship Series, and are meaningless today. The Playoff didn’t make them matter any less; they were always devoid of any impact on the be-all of deciding college football’s national champion.
The Playoff simply make these bowl games work, financially speaking. Rather than diminish non-January bowls, the Playoff has assured these games will not just survive but multiply.
Yet outside of the three Playoff games and the Bahamas Bowl — which exported into international waters America’s greatest source of pride, Popeye’s fried chicken — every bowl is a waste, or worse. They represent the sour side of college football: The further enrichment of the already rich, including television networks and the sport’s elite brands, on the backs of unpaid student-athletes.
But at least bowl games are a showcase — in theory, if not in practice. Bowls still allow for matchups largely unseen during the regular season. Yet the mandate dictating that every Power Five program play at least one non-conference game each season against a fellow major-conference opponent has made the uncommon postseason matchup seem ordinary.
Meanwhile, longstanding bowl tie-ins lead to repetitive rematches between conferences. Michigan has faced South Carolina in bowl play twice in the past five years, for example. I think we can all agree that once was enough.
Therein lies the biggest weakness of the postseason: The ever-decreasing number of bowl games pitting teams from the Power Five against the Group of Five makes a sham of bowl play and highlights the growing divide separating the haves from college football’s have-nots.
One of college football’s biggest dilemmas isn’t the lack of a Cinderella but the complete redefinition of the word. For the Football Bowl Subdivision, Cinderella isn’t Central Florida getting a shot at the national championship, since UCF and its ilk will never get that shot. It’s the idea that 2015 Iowa, for example, is college football’s new version of a feel-good underdog.
Bowl season highlights this idea: Group of Five teams can’t play Cinderella simply because they don’t get the chance.
There will be just six bowls in 2018 pitting Power Five against Group of Five, with one the access-bowl bid — this year likely the Fiesta Bowl — pitting the top team from the Group of Five against an at-large from the Power Five.
The Armed Forces Bowl will feature the American Athletic Conference and the Big 12 Conference. The Birmingham Bowl pits the American and the Southeastern Conference. The Heart of Dallas ties together the Big 12 and Conference USA. The Military Bowl sends the American against the Atlantic Coast Conference.
And the Las Vegas Bowl sends the champion of the Mountain west Conference, should that team not make the New Year’s Six, against a team from the Pac-12 Conference. But even that’s going away: The Las Vegas Bowl and its new stadium will kick out the Mountain West in favor of a team from the SEC in 2020, according to a recent report.
It’s almost a certainty that more bowl games will be added in the near future, bringing the total number of bowl slots to about two-thirds of the FBS. It’s also highly likely that the new additions to the bowl lineup follow the same script — pitting Power Five against Power Five and Group of Five against Group of Five.
There’s been some talk among Group of Five administrators, if always in whispers and rarely taken seriously, about branching out and creating a championship format separate from the Power Five. That’s a ridiculous idea that would only serve to hurt non-major programs and conferences, in their wallets most of all.
But the concept has merit in one respect: As bowl games become more about programming — finding the best pairing to draw eyeballs — than matchups, shouldn’t the Group of Five examine the best way to feature its own lineup? Easier said than done, but it’s not achieved by forming a poor-man’s Playoff to serve as counter programming to the real thing.
College football already has tasked a committee with choosing the four teams for our Playoff. Why not do the same for the 35 or so non-Playoff bowl games? Work around the money issue by guaranteeing the same conference-by-conference payout. Wouldn’t a game with some stakes — a Top 25 Group of Five team against a Top 25 Power Five team, for example — draw more interest than a retread?
This isn’t an argument for fewer bowl games. Trimming the fat may create better games, but there’s no going back now. There’s an argument to be made for something else: Not fewer bowl games but better ones, less repetitive ones, games that aren’t simply a parade of Power Five against Power Five and Group of Five against Group of Five. We get enough of that during the regular season.