Postseason Mediocrity

This season there will be (count ‘em) 44 bowl games played to round off the college football season.  They are scheduled over nearly a month, from December 17 to January 10.  The last of them will determine the closest thing to a national college championship that can be had.

These games will all be televised, of course, and they will add revenues to the coffers of the colleges and universities, and the broadcast media, that sponsor and display them.  You can watch most of them on ESPN and—wait for it—your ESPN App.  Yep, there’s an app for that. 

And these bowls have heavily commercialized names.  Even the classic Orange Bowl is now the Vrbo Orange Bowl.  Guess they couldn’t afford to sponsor that last vowel.  Most of the names make little sense.  There’s a Tailgreeter Cure Bowl, for example.  Named in part for the late ‘70s rock band?  I’ll certainly cure anybody who “greets” my tail!  There are strange amalgams of disparate names, like the Wasabi Fenway Bowl.  I can see the Boiled Cod Fenway Bowl, or the Steamah Fenway Bowl, but wasabi is just not traditional New England fare.   We’ll get back to this bowl later.

The year after I was born, in 1940, there were five bowl games: the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Sun, and Cotton bowls.  They were all played on January 1, and all in warm-weather sites (CA, LA, FL, TX).  They were all broadcast on radio, I’m sure, but only two seem to have been nation-wide: the Rose Bowl on NBC radio, and the Cotton Bowl on the Mutual Broadcasting System.  The collective won-lost-tied records of the ten teams involved in the bowl games was 86-6-3.  The postseason #1-ranked team in the nation, Minnesota, did not play in a bowl game.  In those days there were fewer regional athletic conferences, and many had only a few members.  Three of the teams in bowl games in 1940 were independents, and the others represented a diverse range of conferences, including the Big Four.

These games, especially the Rose Bowl, were noted for their pageantry and their regional celebration of college football.  They were postseason exhibitions, much the same as postseason pro baseball series in the 1890s, before the modern leagues and the World Series were established early in the 20th century.  Since the regular college seasons then were only eight or nine games long, the players of teams invited to these bowl games probably felt some exhilaration at one last fling on the gridiron before hunkering down to study for their final exams.

But that was over eighty years ago. Among the 44 bowl games this year, 16 of them feature teams with a 6-6 record.  Worse yet, four of those have not one but two teams with 6-6 records.  One of them is the storied Duke’s Mayo Bowl.  And even worse than that, the Hawai’i Bowl has a mediocre 6-6 visiting team, and a home team sporting a losing record at 6-7.  If I’m lucky enough to be in Honolulu on Christmas Eve, I guarantee you I’m not going to be in a stadium watching sub-par college football.  Look for me at Waikiki Beach or the luau and show at the Royal Hawaiian.  Seriously, would anybody except doting relatives of the players even think about attending that game?

So the new equation is all about Mediocrity = Money.  Apparently sponsors can be found for these dreadful uninspiring gladiatorial contests.  I guess there’s still enough self-deluding cachet from the olden days of five bowl games featuring ten powerful teams for the University of Virginia (“here we need not fear error while reason is free to combat it”—Jefferson), my graduate Alma Mater, to be happy to be invited to the Wasabi Fenway Bowl because they can say they received a “bowl bid,” despite the damning factuality of their 6-6 season.

Old Fenway Park Set Up For Football

And to culminate the mountain of ludicrousness upon which such a bowl invitation rests, the NCAA actually belatedly created this bowl game just so that every 6-6 team in Division One got a “bowl bid.”  As a Red Sox fan, I would say that the sacred baseball grounds of Fenway Park deserve better.  True, football has been played there ever since the very first year of its existence, when it hosted the national high school championship game.  Over the years, several times Fenway has been the home of a local college or professional team, including 1933-36, when the NFL Braves moved there, changed their name to the Redskins (paralleling the “Red Sox,” but keeping the “indigenous warrior” theme), and then moved on to D.C. in 1937.  But to mess the grounds up in this day and age on behalf of two forgettable, non-local teams seems ludicrous.   So on behalf of the Outback Tony the Tiger TaxSlayer Music City Duke’s Mayo Cheez-It Pinstripe Guaranteed Rate Holiday First Responder Military Quick Lane Camellia Gasparilla Armed Forces Frisco Classic Frisco Famous Idaho Potato Lending Tree Cure Bahamas Bowl, and all the others, I offer the proposition that we have not too much of a good thing, but way too much of a mediocre nothing.

Meanwhile I’ll just enjoy the holidays with a smile and the quiet thought that while the footballers of my undergraduate alma mater, Williams College, received no bowl bid, they did go 9-0, including a culminating triumph over arch rival Amherst at Amherst, 24-19.  Who could ask for anything more?

Copyright 2021 Arnold J. Bradford

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