Since the dawn of American sports, there have been few things as eagerly anticipated or more thoroughly built up as College Football’s Bowl Season. Every year we get ready for our team to play in that one extra game that could make the season special. We over-analyze every inch of the field, over-hype every matchup and over-quantify every second of football that is to come, then when there is no more analyzing to be done we rehash every moment of our Saturdays (and the occasional weekday) for the past 13-15 weeks. It’s just what we do. It’s an integral part of our Holiday Season ritual. We realize that we have once again breathed, bled and sweat with our team as they took on the powerhouses and cruised through the pillow fights, most of us crying at some point for what could’ve been and the few of us rejoicing the entire way to the top of the polls. And if we didn’t get invited, we can’t help but to analyze that too.
We watched all of the other games and we routed for our favorite underdogs and color schemes, but honestly did we really care about anything but our team? Nah. And now our final game might as well be the title game. Heck, why not? Our team has one last chance this season to prove they’re better than someone else and that’s all that matters. Whether your team is in the Rose, Cotton, Gator, Alamo, Orange, Holiday, Independence, Sun, Chick-fil-A or any other Bowl, it’s has a special place as ‘our game’ this year. A good chunk of us even live and die with our conference affiliates (a little) during the Bowl Season (as long as they are not our arch-rivals), just because we feel it makes our team look better if they all do well. But the NCAA is gradually getting closer to throwing out the tradition that makes Bowl games so special. It’s the classic Hollywood way of thinking, where the lights could be brighter and the screen could be bigger. It’s a playoff system. Yuck!
Listen, I’m not saying a playoff is a bad thing, but it just doesn’t fit major college football. The plus 1 proposal is cool because the top four teams in College Football are usually deserving of a shot to be #1, but a full playoff would seriously alter the way we look at the game. I hear all the experts that back a playoff say that it’s a shame that college football is the only sport without a real playoff and that it detracts from the integrity of crowning a champion. They talk about all of the playoff systems in other major sports and how they thrive. But I disagree! They are not realizing what makes College Football better in its own right than any playoff system could make it: the seasonal culture! It’s the fact that every week of the regular season is the most important! It’s already a playoff scenario! You may hear this often from those who are proponents of the Bowl System, but I’ll bet you don’t understand what they are saying.
It’s not like any other sport, so why should we treat it like it is? College football at its core is more than the glass trophy that awaits the 1 vs 2 National Championship at the end of the season, it’s about 11 Conference Champions getting their own trophy game. It’s about a 2nd, 3rd and 4th place team getting a chance to celebrate instead of cry at the end of the season. It’s about one game at a time and a “Game of the Year” every single week. It’s about earning a spot in the rankings, not vying for seeding. It’s about the seniors making the plays you expect and the “Play of the Year” coming from a guy you’ve never heard of. It’s about the freshmen and sophomore phenoms returning for their 2nd and 3rd seasons instead of bolting for the big league’s. It’s about every team’s Heisman candidate being proud to just be named All Conference. It’s about the Tradition of a Bowl banner and a Gatorade shower. It’s about every recruiting class having the ‘next great player’ and the walk-ons who made a name for themselves. And it’s about playing the game the right way.
Add a ‘real’ playoff and we lose all of that. We remember a few stories instead of hundreds. We remember one game instead of all of them. Some will tell you why should a team be rewarded for losing? Because College Football is so dang huge and difficult! 120 schools couldn’t be put into a 16 game playoff like the NBA or NFL, or even the smaller Div II and III schools. I mean, get real, with the money associated and the pressure to win you see the cheating that major schools have been doing already to be better than the next guy. We can only assume that taking away a system that rewards many and replacing it with one that rewards few will make it even more of a temptation to cheat to get ahead. Granted, the Bowl System has too many games associated with it (I think you should need a winning season with a 7 win record in most cases), the Championship Series isn’t perfect and teams sometimes get left out when they should be included in a BCS game, but generally the teams that make the big Bowl games deserve to be there. There is always issue with somebody not making it in, and that’s how it’s going to stay anyway (even with a playoff) due to the dynamic of the College Football season, where you can only play one game a week and school work is most important (at least in theory).
We need to keep Bowls alive in major College Football and stop thinking about ways to ‘enhance the experience’ of one single team through a playoff. We need to stop thinking about the one or two ‘big boys’ that think they should have been ranked higher to have their ‘shot’, and think about the 30+ teams that are treating their own Bowl Game like it’s meant to be treated, as their National Championship! Let the bright lights take care of themselves. College Football isn’t about the big screen anyway, it’s about your local channel.