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A Fan's Notes: Bowled Over


Saturday is the beginning of college football’s bowl season. Yep, season. Where there used to be just a handful of games—with names like Rose and Orange, Sugar and Cotton, mostly huddled on or around New Year’s Day—there are now 35, spread out over weeks. If ESPN’s ads are to be believed, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Bowl season starts off well before Christmas, with a full slate of games that not too many care to see. Tomorrow alone, there’s the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl—the “famous” refers to the Idaho potato.

A Grinch—who, me?—might say there are too many. After all, the current 35 all but max out the number of teams that are bowl-eligible, which is to say they’ve won half of their games, but not necessarily more. And anyone who likes to lament the commercialization of Christmas will love the bowl schedule. The old iconic names aren’t gone; they’re just buried under an avalanche of sponsor logos that would make a NASCAR driver proud: the Allstate Sugar, the AT&T Cotton, the Discover Orange, the Tostitos Fiesta. Only the granddaddy of ’em all is given a token of respect: “The Rose Bowl Game…presented by VIZIO.”

Most bowls aren’t just sponsored, they’re proud corporate enterprises created from the bottom line up. It leads to amusing, actual headlines like “Toledo Stunned in Pizza Bowl.”

Some say you can’t have too much of a good thing. But, really, is the AdvoCareV100 Bowl a good thing? How many college players dream of playing in the Chik-fil-A Bowl, or the BBVA Compass Bowl, or the Russell Athletic Bowl, or the S.D. County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, or the Franklin American Mortgage Company Music City Bowl, or the Outback Bowl, or the—

Are you still there?

Bowl games are big business, paying out nearly $180 million to athletic departments last year. But for many schools, the costs—of travel, or having to sell a certain number of tickets—wipe out any potential profits. Much of the money that is made from these displays of amateur athletics is landing in the wrong hands, such as some bowl CEOs who make in the high six figures to organize one game on one day.

Perhaps, like Scrooge or Charlie Brown’s friends, I’m missing the true meaning of the season. More bowls means almost everyone has something to root for. The Missouri Tigers, with their national-title dreams dashed, are still pretty stoked to be playing in the Cotton—excuse me, the AT&T Cotton Bowl, against old Big-12 nemesis Oklahoma State. Kansas State will match up against traditional power Michigan in the less venerable Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. KU fans are, once again, content with their consolation prize: basketball season.

A recent Harris Poll shows that college football is now tied with baseball as the second most popular spectator sport, behind only…pro football. The number of bowl games has doubled in just the last 20 years, and there will be more next year—not even counting the new four-team playoff.

So when Tulane and Louisiana-Lafayette kick off tomorrow night in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl—at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome—you and I may not be watching, unless you went to Lafayette or Tulane. But there are players and coaches and thousands of fans looking forward to this and the other so-called “meaningless” contests, especially the seniors who get one last chance on a big stage. And who knows? It might even be a good game.

If not, there are 34 more to go.


Victor Wishna is a contributing author and commentator for Up to Date.
Stephen Steigman is director of Classical KC and chief of broadcast operations for KCUR 89.3 and 91.9 Classical KC. You can email him at stephen@kcur.org.