Enjoy your first day of the bowl season?
Five games, ending with Saturday night’s New Orleans Bowl between Louisiana Tech and Arkansas State in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, were certainly a plateful.
There are 34 more to come over the next two weeks, followed by the College Football Playoff championship game Jan. 11.
But how much is too much?
And who deserves to go to a bowl?
Taking the second question first:
The minimum standard for bowl eligibility is six victories.
But because for the first time there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams to fill out the 80 slots for the 40 bowls, three teams that finished 5-7 — Nebraska, Minnesota and San Jose State — got berths based on their APR scores.
There was no way a bowl would simply go dark.
Plus, it was the first time graduation rates have been used to reward teams rather than to punish them. Seems reasonable.
Which leads back to the first question, adding more fuel to the fire of a debate about college football’s unique — and revered — postseason:
Don’t forget, even though there’s now a four-team playoff with many proponents for expansion to as many as 16 teams, what used to be called Division I-A is now the Football BOWL Subdivision.
But for some reason, there are those out there who seem offended by the number of bowl games.
“There’s too much ice cream,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said.
No matter that Delany’s 14-school conference has 12 bowl tie-ins.
And no matter that football is the only college sport in which there is no guaranteed postseason. The basketball teams, golf teams and tennis teams, etc. all have conference tournaments in which to participate regardless of their records.
And in many sports there are nice in-season experiences. It’s a rare men’s or women’s basketball team that doesn’t go to Hawaii or some other attractive place every couple of years.
The Tulane women’s basketball team recently played a tournament in the Virgin Islands. Football teams don’t make trips like that.
Football, which pays the freight for those non-revenue teams, is often not just the face of the athletic department but the entire school. But there’s no postseason payoff without at least a break-even record.
And no matter that TV, essentially ESPN, considers bowl programming so worthwhile that it has created (and owns) some of the new games.
And no matter that we watch them. The average bowl rating on ESPN is double that of regular-season NBA games.
There are just “too many.”
“Who’s saying that?” asked Wright Waters, former commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference and now executive director of the Football Bowl Association. “Not the teams that are going. Not the fans who are going or at least watching. It’s a topic worth discussing, but those who say there are ‘too many bowls’ don’t have well-thought-out arguments.”
To be sure, the bowl landscape has shifted dramatically from the way it was traditionally viewed.
In the past two decades, the number of bowl games has more than doubled, thanks to a basic deregulating of the system by the NCAA.
All you need is proof of the financial ability to stage the game, including payment to the schools, and two conferences to commit — but not necessarily guarantee — its teams.
A title sponsor isn’t a must, but it helps, even if you’ve never heard of them.
That’s why we’ve got the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, the Quick Lane Bowl and the Camping World Independence Bowl (RIP, Poulan/Weed Eater Indy Bowl).
And while the number of FBS teams has also increased, we’ve also seen the bowl-eligible minimum lowered from having a winning season to a .500 record, and being able to count victories against FCS teams every year instead of one in four, as used to be the case.
“What we’ve created is the expectation that if you win six games, you should be going to a bowl game,” Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Karl Benson said. “And the marketplace is setting the number of games we have.”
Still, Waters thinks it’s time for all the stakeholders — the conferences, the bowls, TV interests and the NCAA, which certifies bowl games but does little else to oversee them — to meet this spring to discuss what truly is best for college football where bowls are concerned.
But those who want to somehow turn back the clock should consider the opinion of Arkansas State senior defensive tackle Robert Mondie.
A year ago, Mondie was at Alabama-Birmingham, and the Blazers, amid rumors that the program was about to be shut down, defeated Southern Miss in their regular-season finale to become bowl-eligible at 6-6.
“We were hearing that if we were in a bowl game, it would give us a chance to save the program,” Mondie recalled. “But we were happy and excited because no matter what happened we were going to go to a bowl game and show the world what we’ve got.”
But instead, there was no bowl invite. And a week later, the school did indeed drop football.
“Crushing,” Mondie said.
Mondie transferred to Arkansas State, where his brother, Devin, is the starting center.
And Saturday, Mondie finally got to play in a bowl.
“This has been one of the best experiences of my life,” Mondie said during bowl week. “Any team that wins enough games to be in a bowl game deserves a chance to be in one.”
And maybe even a few that don’t.
Bowl on, folks.