Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Making college football great again

I'm a big fan of college football. I suppose that's only natural. Georgia is a football state, and the major universities in the state are football schools. High school football is big in the state. Even ESPN named Valdosta, Georgia as Titletown, USA because of its success at high school football.

So, football matters to me. Not so much the NFL, but college football. And I don't like what's happening to college football. It's still fun to watch, so that's a good thing, but I'm seeing it go down a bad road, and they need to fix it. Start with the bowl games.

The Bowls


To start with, there are too many bowls. There used to be just one: the Rose Bowl. They count the 1902 Tournament East–West football game between Michigan and Stanford as the first Rose Bowl game, but it really started with the second game, in 1916. It's been played every year since.

Other bowls came along later. There were some small bowls that only lasted a single game, and others that lasted less than 10 years. But some stuck around longer. In 1935, the Orange, Sugar, and Sun Bowls debuted. 1937 saw the first Cotton Bowl game.

By 1937, we had the long-time "Big Four" games -- Rose, Orange, Sugar, and Cotton -- plus a minor bowl with staying power, the Sun Bowl. And, of course, several one and done games. But more long-lasting bowls followed.

The Gator Bowl was first played in 1946, while the first Tangerine Bowl (now the Citrus Bowl) kicked off in 1947. The Liberty Bowl was first played in 1959, as was the now-defunct but long-played Bluebonnet Bowl. The Peach Bowl debuted in 1968. 1971 saw the first Fiesta Bowl. The Independence Bowl began in 1976, and the Holiday Bowl in 1978.

In the 60 years after the first regularly-played Rose Bowl, there were 12 regularly played bowls. In the 40 years since then, that number has grown to 40.

There are 128 Division 1-A/FBS teams. With 40 bowl games, that means 62% of the teams go to a bowl. Even the NBA and NHL only have 53% of their teams in post-season.

Once again this year, every .500 team gets a bowl. And, again this year, some teams with losing records (five this year) get to go to a bowl. A bowl game used to be a reward for a great season. Now, it's little more than a participation trophy. The solution is simple: fewer bowls means it's a bigger, more meaningful reward for a successful season. Cut the number of bowls in half, to 20. I'd be happy with only 15 bowls. It would make going to a bowl a big deal, as it should be. But, and you'll see why in a second, I'll settle for 20 bowl games.

Bowl Eligible


Generally speaking, teams should have to win at least 8 games in order to be invited to a bowl. I would have contingency plans for there not being enough qualifying teams, but with an 8-win threshold, the chances of that are small. And, I would make an exception I'll discuss in a minute.

That would be a big deal for some schools. LSU, for instance, wouldn't qualify this year. Bet they'd find a way to make up weather games in the future.

Okay, that exception. If a team won its conference, it's bowl eligible. And, if a team plays in a conference championship game, it's bowl eligible. For conferences that don't have championship games (this year, there are two), the top two teams would be bowl eligible. That would level the field among conferences, give all conferences two automatic bowl bids, not just the ones with championship games. And that alone could create the 8-win exception. This year, the Sun Belt's co-champions are 9-3 Appalachian State and 7-5 Arkansas State. The Red Wolves would get a bowl, while some 8-4 teams wouldn't. Those 8-4 shouldn've won their conference.

Finally, I would could all wins as wins, even if it's against a 1-AA/FCS or Division II school. Leave it up to the bowls to determine the value of those wins.

Playoffs?


How do playoffs figure into all this? Under my 16-team plan, first-round losers would still be able to go to a bowl game. Or, the bowls could sign on to host a playoff game. The quarter-finals could be around Christmas week, where currently, some bowls are already playing. Today, bowls host the semi-finals. Let four bowls host the quarter-finals. And, the first round, if they wish. I don't care.

Under the current 4-team playoff setup, it wouldn't change a thing. Bottom line is, no matter what -- current plan or my better plan -- there's no adverse impact.

Objections?


You may have an objection. I'm willing to listen. But if the objection is "wah wah wah my team doesn't get to go" then I really don't care. Also, "But, but, but, bowls!" Don't care.

Not everybody goes to a bowl. Not everybody deserves to go. It needs to mean something.

Other than the bowls? Well, there are some rule changes I'd like to see. We'll talk about that another time. Let's get rid of the Participation Trophy Bowl games and we'll fix the rules another day.

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