Don't Buy 'The Bowls Don't Matter' Hype

College football is very, very close to a ‘playoff’. It’s going to consist of four teams and those teams will come from a selection committee of some type and size.

On Monday night, twitter was awash with some media folks celebrating this as the dawning of a new age…justice in the world…the most popular sport behind the NFL finally catching up with the times and other blather.

I have never been a proponent of an FBS level playoff and can take or leave this four-team option. To me, four is better than six or eight or 16 or 32 but not as desirable as the way things were back in the 1980’s when it was all about wining and dining the bowl reps.

Of course, I am of that opinion because the old system was very good to the Iowa football program thanks to its rabid fan support. I haven’t cared about ‘crowning a true champion’ because my favorite team would have only been in the season ending Top Four debate two times since 1960.

Yes, TWO TIMES since the 1960.

The first instance would have been in 1985, when Iowa ended the regular season with a record of 10-1. The Hawks spent five weeks atop the AP Poll that season before losing to Ohio State. They dropped to 6th after that loss but settled at #4 in the December 15th poll, the last one before the bowl games. Iowa likely would have made it into a Top Four playoff setting that season.

The other season would have been in 2002, where Iowa was ranked 3rd in the AP Poll after the regular season, but 5th in the final BCS poll. USC was ranked 4th and it would have been one of those two schools as the fourth and final team in a playoff that year. You could have made a strong case for either school. Perhaps Iowa would have gotten the nod, perhaps not. I would have loved to have seen Iowa play anyone in the nation at the end of that season and the Hawks likely would have played against #1 Miami in a four team tournament, if the 1 seed played the 4 seed.

That’s it, however. Those are your two years where Iowa would have factored into the Top Four debate. 1991 you say, when Iowa was 10-1 at the end of the year? They were ranked 7th in the last regular season AP Poll that year.

If you have another year you’d like to debate about, check out Iowa’s AP Poll history at this link, which is what the links above are related to.

So again, I am not dancing in the streets over the Top Four FBS playoff notion because it only would have mattered twice in my lifetime. That’s two years out of 41. Sure, Iowa could have won it in both of those years and had it done so, it might have changed the fortunes of Iowa football forever…or at least offered up a nice boost.

THAT is the dangling carrot which many fans cling to…or some just have a burning desire to see things played off. That ain’t me.

Has the lack of a playoff stopped you from watching bowl games your team is not involved with? My guess the answer to that question for most of you reading this is no. If you think a Final Four in football is going to have the same appeal that the NCAA basketball tournament has, you are kidding yourself. That event is unlike anything else in sports. The primary reason, in my opinion, is because everyone is involved, whether or not your team is in the thing or not. Most everyone I know fills out a bracket and is in some sort of competition pool…either for money, pride or both. I have been filling out brackets since 1983 when I pulled the insert out of my Sport Illustrated, sponsored by Camel Cigarettes.

For several years after that, my dad would bring home a blank piece of poster board and I would get out a ruler and pencil and create my own 3’x5′ bracket and hang it in my room, meticulously filling in each team as they advanced…until my little brother would come in with his chicken scratch handwriting and ruin it by scribbling in ‘NOVA’ or ‘CUSE’. He took a few beatings for that.

Here is the truth; people will still watch a good football game. For those pundits saying that the bowl season has been meaningless or will be rendered more so with a final four, I just don’t buy it. Yes, I realize that TV viewership of bowl games last year dipped to an all time BCS era low. More people work two jobs than ever before. There are more things to watch on TV and our kid are involved in too damned many activities to where we don’t know if we are coming and going. I also realize that TV ratings for college football’s regular season are as high as ever and networks are tripping over one another to give conferences billion dollar TV contracts.

The Final Four will probably be very entertaining and I will certainly watch, but I will watch the other bowl games, too. I will watch a Baylor-Washington Alamo Bowl because of the players involved. For a game that allegedly didn’t matter, it was one of the most entertaining college football contests of the 2011 season and drew a monster rating. Stanford-Oklahoma State in the Fiesta was wildly entertaining and went to overtime. That was a 3 v 4 matchup and the ratings for that game were up over 50% from the previous years Fiesta Bowl.

Let me circle back around to a previous comment, related to last year’s bowl ratings being the lowest (collectively) of the BCS era…

First, there are too many bowl games…too many duds. Get rid of 10 or so bowl games and anything played before December 27th. Next, every one of the BCS bowls was broadcast on cable television, specifically, ESPN. While ESPN reaches 100 million homes, the over the air major networks reach 114 million.

In 2009, Texas-Alabama drew 17.2% of all television households. That game was broadcast on ABC. If that rating would ever be matched by a game broadcast on ESPN, it would be the highest rated program in the history of cable television. So yeah, ratings are dipping because we are not comparing apples to apples here; more games, and more marquee games are being shown on cable which means fewer viewers.

If your favorite team is playing in a bowl game, you are going to either watch it in person or watch it on television. It’s not meaningless, which means the bowl system is not meaningless. It has meaning for every fanbase whose teams are involved. Some bowl games are more meaningful than others, but I have a hard time believing that an real fan of a football team would choose not to watch a bowl game involving their team if it doesn’t reach a certain ‘give a darn’ threshold.

If you are a hardcore fan, you are watching. If you are not watching, you just aren’t hardcore.

So bring on the Final Four, I guess. I will watch it and be entertained. However, I will also be entertained by at least half of the so called ‘meaningless’ bowl games that will be played in December and January.

  • Jethro1hawkfan


    telling me that you would not be stoked to see Iowa in a playoff system for the
    national championship? Twice in our lifetime is better than nothing at all.
    This system allows our team a chance to win a national championship; even if it
    loses once! Yes, I agree the bowl system gave Iowa a chance because of its fan
    base. Our fans are excellent; as I am one of many season ticket holders! Be
    ready for the “I told you so” because I will be there to tell you I
    told you so when Iowa makes the tournament in the future. Get ready sir! A new
    era is about to be born!


    • HNStaff

      Not twice, once for sure. The 2002 instance would have been a debate between Iowa and USC for the 4th slot, IMO.

      • Jethro1hawkfan

        Yes sir but at least we were in the game as a 1 loss opponent!  Love the site!  Love the articles!  Keep up the good work!
        PS  Don’t ever pick Iowa as a no loss team in one season!

  • Drleer

    John, I do not disagree with your analysis.  I do wish you had added a comment about what the players think about going to a bowl game…that seems to be ignored by many analysts.  (I am NOT suggesting you don’t concern yourself with the players!).

  • Jgrossman

    One of the main reason’s last season bowl ratings were lower is because the New Years day bowl were played on MONDAY.  I know alot of people  that had to work that day becase New Years fell on the Sunday.  Take that across 100 million viewers and it makes a difference.

  • IowaFan81


    While I agree with you that bowl games aren’t meaningless, this is a step in the right direction. Most fans aren’t just fans of their own team, they are a fan of the game itself. And most want a true national champion and believe that a playoff is the best way to get that. There is room for both the bowl games and playoffs. If conferences were put together the right way then we could have conference champs in the playoffs and the rest of eligible teams in bowl games. I also agree that they are too many bowl games and they are played on the wrong days when people are working or have to work the next day. Iowa may or may not have played in the playoffs in those years, but don’t you want them to have a shot for once?  The new playoffs would give them a better chance at playing for a national championship. I understand that we’re all fans of Iowa first then of the game, but if you don’t think this is better for the game itself then I’m not buying it. Nothing is changing besides a couple more teams being able to play of the national championship which in most years was needed.

  • Hawkaloogie

    I hate the “too many bowl games” argument. We spend most of January, all of February, March, April, May, June, July, and August waiting for college football and then complain cause there are too many games??? If you don’t like game don’t watch, and if the chamber of commerce for Waxahachie, Texas wants to invite Directional A&M and Directional Tech to play in the BFE Bowl, who cares? The free market will decide what games have staying power.

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