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The Bowls Runneth Over
December 15, 2012  | By Gerald Jordan  | 1 comment

College football reached the tipping point on bowls a few years ago. It’s now ridiculous, and it’s not just the funny names. It’s the numbing number of bowls — 35, when the Bowl Championship Series title game is included. Of course, that means even the heartiest fan will have to summon every last bit of enthusiasm to watch bowls that match teams whose records barely qualify as conference also-rans.

Beginning at 1 p.m. EST Saturday on ESPN, the New Mexico Bowl kicks off from Albuquerque, pitting regional opponents Arizona (top) and Nevada. While that might appeal to fans in the Mountain Time Zone, the rest of the country — devoted Arizona and Nevada alumni excluded — is left to puzzle over why two teams, who between them have lost 10 games this season, are worth watching. A slight upgrade in season records awaits those who did the wise thing and completed some Christmas shopping instead of fixating on New Mexico. Get past the fact that it’s called the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, and click to ESPN at 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday to watch Toledo (9-3) take on Utah State (10-2).

Bowls once were a post-season reward for a team’s successful year. Yeah, and so, too, were Christmas bonuses at the Studebaker plant. Things change. And fat TV contracts mark the biggest change in why bowls are played.

ESPN will beam 32 of the post-season bowl games, including the Jan. 7 (8:30 p.m. ET) national title game between Notre Dame (12-0) and Alabama (12-1).

What started as civic boosters rallying to generate tourism and interest in a locale (think Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl), has mushroomed into a financial bonanza for athletic conferences, notably the behemoths: the Southeastern Conference (Alabama 2012 SEC title celebration, right), the Big 10, the Pacific 12. The Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl will generate about $80 million for the competing schools to split and share with their athletic conferences. This year could see more than $400 million for college football bowls, with the big-reputation conferences (SEC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12 and the Atlantic Coast Conference) raking off 71.5 percent, according to USA Today.

Maybe the prolonged run-up to the one game that all of college footballdom awaits holds this advantage: The amateurs — those who watch college football only during bowl season — will have a few games to sharpen their viewing skills. You can’t appreciate the speed and ferocity of defense played by Alabama and Notre Dame unless you’ve watched college football all year, or you’ve gotten a brief comparison by perusing the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl (3:30 ET, Dec. 22, on ESPN).

Failing that, viewers can sharpen their eyes on the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl (7:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 26, on ESPN), or the Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman (3 p.m. ET, Dec. 27, on ESPN) and please do not overlook the Meineke Car Care Bowl (9 p.m. ET, Dec. 28, on ESPN). Where else can fans graze through a menu of combatants whose ledgers of games lost almost match the number of games won?

Think TV. Think money. Lots of money.

Please don’t think I’m pressing sour grapes because the Arkansas Razorbacks came a cropper this year and didn’t even hit that magical, yet embarrassing, six-games-won threshold. No, this is just a rant about the influence of TV on bowl games. There was a time when TV cameras were loath to pan the cameras across empty stands at the early December bowls. Now the money is guaranteed and audiences are viewing across digital platforms. Who needs fans in the stands?

Despite their odd-sounding sponsor titles, some of these contests will be real doozies. Take, for example, the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl (9:45 p.m. ET, Dec. 27, on ESPN). Baylor likely got a mega-size thank you card from the SEC after the Bears knocked off No. 1-ranked Kansas State University. That cleared the way for the winner of the SEC championship game to play Notre Dame in the BCS title game.

One annoying trend for bowl purists is the delay, until after New Year’s Day, of games that don’t command the status and attention of the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, even Cotton Bowl.

The BBVA Compass Bowl (1 p.m. ET, Jan. 5, on ESPN) features the University of Pittsburgh against the University of Mississippi. Really? And the GoDaddy.com Bowl (9 p.m. ET, Jan. 6, on ESPN) will pit Kent State against Arkansas State University; that’s a mid-December bowl if I ever saw one.

All that football purists can do is persevere until 8:30 p.m. ET, Jan. 7, when No. 1 Notre Dame (right) and No. 2 Alabama decide the national championship, then wait on the newly adopted four-team playoff for the title. Those games, by the way, are reported by USA Today to rake in $500 million a year in a 12-year contract.

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Amen. Hard to see how a school can take any pride in some of these invitations. I await the inauguration of the Tidy Bowl Bowl.
Dec 31, 2012   |  Reply
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