CHARLOTTE, NC. Remember when New Year’s Day was a glorious romp for college football’s biggest bowl games? Not any more. Football, college and pro alike, is in the midst of a crisis without an apparent cure. On the college level, this epic football fail is best characterized by an ever increasing number of meaningless bowl games that few attend and that virtually no one watches. Consequently, New Year’s Day has now become a dreary parade of college football Failure Bowls.
“Follow the money” has long been a mantra for all things related to the almighty dollar be it politics, entertainment or sports. Now those greenbacks are changing the face of football forever.
Meanwhile, the fans, those folks who buy the tickets, are also paying the price.
The rise of college Failure Bowls
In college football today, there are enough bowl games to go around that any Division One team has about a 50-50 chance of playing a post-season game — most of them meaningless except for recruiting purposes. That’s hardly a mark of quality by any standard.
But the $$$-cancer is spreading into previously virgin territory. With bowls being played that have little or no significance, many of the best college players, with their eyes set on lucrative professional contracts, are opting not to play due to the risk of career-ending injuries.
This year an estimated 20 players chose not to participate, and who can blame them? As the trend continues, meaningless bowls will become even less important.
The Gator Bowl between Texas A&M and N.C. State must have been a nightmare for broadcasters as they did their best to shoot around vast sections of empty seats. The Gator Bowl has the distinction of being the first college bowl game that was ever televised nationally, but the luster of its seven decade history is fading. Today, the Gator Bowl finds itself sinking into the increasingly crowded legion of Failure Bowls.
The unintended consequences of the NCAA’s College Football Playoff regime
For years there were cries from college football fans across the nation that there needed to be an NCAA pigskin playoff to determine the national champion. After years of debate, the College Football Playoff (CFP) was instituted five years ago.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest complaint against this action came from the four elite bowls. They previously had a lock on New Year’s gridiron action. And viewership. But that’s becoming an artifact of the past.
The reason is simple. The NCAA’s solution to a clear cut official college championship game was “solved” quite simplisticly, by incorporating the bowls into the playoff system. But in one fell swoop, this virtually eliminated the fun of those long-running January 1 college bowl competitions. They were all effectively demoted to mere playoff games, becoming just part of an elimination round. So who cares about them now?
As a consequence, just like the NFL has its annual, overhyped, overadvertised Super Bowl, NCAA college football now boasts it own national championship game. The major bowls still exist, of course. But they no longer mark a spectacular end to the college football season. They are no longer that big a deal. The championship game has stolen their thunder. Radically devalued, they fallen to the lowly status of Failure Bowls.
A veritable plethora of Failure Bowls = Trophies for just showing up
Ultimately, the big problem with college football today lies in the plethora of sub-par bowl games leading up to the big “kahuna.” No amount of hype is going to make a football game between teams with 6-5 and 7-4 records interesting to even the most die-hard fans. Quite simply, it’s an oversaturation of mediocrity that is becoming an epic fail.
As the year 2019 begins, the list of “Who Cares” Failure Bowls is long and growing. Very possibly the only people even remotely interested in attending or tuning in to one of these mediocre, overhyped and over-advertised contests likely includes only the players’ families and a few diehard alumni who didn’t have much to cheer about over the past year.
And now, for the economic consequences to the NFL for ignoring their patiotic American fan base
As for the NFL itself, most fans and former fans are well aware of the professional league’s largely self-inflicted attendance and viewership problem. It was well documented in 2018 with numerous pundits offering even more numerous explanations as to the cause(s) that led to those plummeting attendance stats. Some say it was due to the “Kaepernick Effect.” Others claim it was over-exposure of the game on TV. Still others believe that endless rules changes, tedious TV replays and penalty debates, overly long commercial breaks and an array of additional interruptions have taken their toll.
More than likely, pro-fooball’s attendance and fan interest swan dive is due to some combination of all the above. Add to this the added dimension of highly paid athletes who can’t grasp their spectacularly good fortune. They get to play a kid’s game every Sunday afternoon for lots and lots of money.
Unfortunately, in recent years, the negative trends affecting the NFL are rapidly infiltrating the college game. But they are doing so in a far different manner.
When college bowl games were great games
Alluding to the not so distant past when the Cotton, Sugar, Orange and Rose bowls represented the highest honor an NCAA team could achieve for a solid season of success. Today, the limited number of widely followed bowl games has given way to a commercially-driven effort to place a premium on athletic mediocrity.
The villain in this effort is the NCAA term “bowl eligible.” “Bowl eligible” essentially means if your team wins one more game than it loses over the course of a season, chances are good your team will be on its way to a bowl game. Somewhere. Unfortunately, however, your team’s 6-5 season is hardly something to brag about. It is the football equivalent of the “everybody gets a trophy” syndrome.
But today, like the pre-Kaepernick NFL, the NCAA trend is increasingly to “follow the money.”
Failure Bowls just follow the money
So here’s a thought about the trend and where it is heading as far as the NFL is concerned. Given the fact that a player decides to sit out a bowl game appearance in deference to a professional contract, is it possible that when he plays on an NFL with a marginal record, he will also opt not to play in the post-season for fear of risking his career?
It seems far-fetched, but then again, so did the idea of not playing in a bowl game.
“Follow the money.”
Television is partly responsible. Who would have ever thought of making the Heisman Trophy presentation an hour-long television special?
Do we want sports telecasts, or discussions about Big Data?
How anyone can sit through the NFL draft during the off-season is beyond comprehension. But television has made it a show. A big data show. A show that turns off the majority of real sports fans.
As professional playoffs approach, pundits analyze and rehash every conceivable permutation. But they know full-well that teams with lesser records possess little or no chance for playing in the Super Bowl.
That being the case, why should a first-rate player risk losing his bread and butter for a single game?
The New Orleans Saints won the NFC South and home field advantage before the last game of the season. Their record was a slick 13-2 as they suited up to play the woeful Carolina Panthers, a team that had lost seven straight games.
Playing on the road, the Panthers smashed New Orleans using a third string quarterback against mostly second and third string players from the Saints. In the end, New Orleans protected their team, the Panthers ended their losing streak in what amounted to a regular season exhibition game and the fans got cheated out of their money.
Whether it’s a credibility problem for the NFL by taking a knee, over-exposure, prima donna players, outrageous salaries or any number of other possibilities, pro football is in a state of crisis.
College football catches the Big Data, Big Commercials disease
Now we find the big data-more commercials epidemic working its way into college ranks. Here, too, athletes dictate the rules about whether they will play or not in X number of bowl games. Pretty soon, “bowl eligible” will mean you only need to win one game in a season. How exciting is that?
What has happened on the gridiron in recent years is a travesty. Both college and professional football are now sports that exist as shadows of whatt they once were. The fans know it. Consequently, they increasingly choose to respond by finding other things to do on Sunday afternoons. Those pursuits now interest them more than sitting in freezing stadiums with “Go Team” painted on their bare chests.
“Follow the money.” And follow it to the death of America’s once most passionately followed sport.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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— Headline image: Fumble! Public domain image via Pixabay.com.