What's in a bowl?
Published: Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 00:09
Each Saturday, as the sun shines bright and Mother Nature bridges the gap between hot and cold, people spring out of bed with an extra ounce of enthusiasm. That first day of the weekend means college football is in the air, right alongside the swirling leaves.
And as fans, alumni, students and staff pack quads, parking lots and stadiums to begin their festivities they are all invigorated with hope – the chance for another win.
When UConn and Maryland kick off on Saturday night, those in attendance at Rentschler Field will all be urging their respective teams toward victory, and of course, a bowl game.
Ah, yes, a bowl game.
A bowl game, that end-of-season contest that gets played sometime around Christmas, or maybe even the New Year, to entertain holiday-celebrating fans and reward a team for its work during the first 12 or 13 games on the schedule.
For some reason, everyone wants to make one of those darn bowl games.
It’s obvious why teams and coaches and administrators want their teams to make a bowl game. A bowl appearance means at least a six-win season, guarantees some national exposure and gives everyone involved their time in the sun during dreary winter months.
But one group of people was left off that list of interested parties.
Why exactly do fans care about a bowl game?
In the NFL, every team’s goal is to make the playoffs. Same goes for MLB, NHL, NBA and just about any other league that comes to mind.
The reason? A berth in the playoffs means a chance at a Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup or the like.
Even in college basketball, where every team dreams about making the Big Dance, the ultimate reason is the same: everyone wants a shot at the title.
And while Old Dominion, Florida Gulf Coast or Davidson may never make it through all six rounds, at least by making it to March they have a chance to lift the trophy – even if a remarkably slim one.
College football, on the other hand, rewards teams with bowl games.
Think about it. UConn fans still point to the Motor City Bowl – the school’s first ever bowl game – as a defining moment for the up-and-coming program.
Even the Fiesta Bowl berth, just two years back, is seen as a great success for a relatively new program among the gargantuan college football landscape.
But why? Why in the world does anyone care about a bowl game?
Truthfully, aside from one, bowl games are worthless scrimmages that bilk schools and fans of money for their own personal gain.
The National Championship Game is all that matters. The rest of the 34 bowl games are simply filler.
When Dan Orlovsky led the Huskies to victory over Toledo in Detroit in 2004, they didn’t move on to a new city, line it back up and square off against a new opponent in a fight for a championship.
The win was just a nice, feel-good, lukewarm ending to an above-average regular season.
Essentially, it meant nothing.
Same goes for UConn’s Fiesta Bowl stomping in 2011 and every bowl game between – it was nice to be there, but ultimately, the result had little impact on anything.
Now that’s not to say that those teams didn’t deserve some sort of postseason. In fact, a conference championship, like in 2010, should certainly earn some sort of recognition and praise.
Bowl games, however, are far from the answer.
College football purists love to argue that the beauty of their game lies in the fact that “every game matters.”
Indeed, under the current setup, one loss can be enough to knock a team out of contention for the national championship.
But while that may be true for a select crop of teams lucky enough to be ranked within striking distance of the season’s ultimate game, it does not speak for every team around the country.
In fact, for most teams, not a single game matters.
At the start of each college football season, analysts can – with relative ease – point to eight, 12, maybe even 16 teams that have a chance to make the national title game based on their position in the two human-made polls as well as the computer rankings that factor into the decision.
By the season’s final week, maybe three or four – a small handful – still have a shot.
For more than 100 other teams, national championship hopes die before the ball is ever even snapped.
Well, college football purists can keep their “every game matters” slogan; maybe there’s even something to be said for a system which seems to produce a champion who, more often than not, is the best team in the land.
But for most of us, the beauty of sports is that anything can happen.
Sometimes, Butler makes a Cinderella run. Occasionally, David Tyree makes a circus catch to slay Goliath. Heck, sometimes even the Pittsburgh Pirates get the chance to play for a trophy.
And until college football has a system in place that rewards more than two teams for a successful season with a chance at the ultimate prize, the overwhelming majority of games played on those beautiful fall Saturdays will never really matter.
So enjoy the game Saturday, UConn fans. Maybe the Huskies will pull out a victory and inch closer to that magical No. 6.
Just don’t expect anything too meaningful come January. Unfortunately, college football is far too broken for that.