Bowl games have long since grown in number throughout the history of them. The first bowl game was the Rose Bowl played in 1902. And the bowl still exists today. The difference is that there are 43 bowl games instead of one. The number of bowl games in 1990 was only 19, but with sponsorship opportunities and money being more of a driver in the sport than ever, it’s seen quite the acceleration.
That acceleration has caused teams with subpar records to be able to participate and more and more player opt-out’s each year making the games less and less appealing each year to many.
With that being said, here is an article on why bowl games still matter to an extent.
Even with the perks outlined in the article, the fact of the matter is that the on-field play, and winners and losers will remain to not matter much. However, here are some ideas in the future to look out for that may make them appealing to the viewer again:
How to make college football bowl games matter again
Let early freshman enrollees participate – Within the last few years, high school senior recruits signing in December of their senior year and enrolling early for spring semester at the universities they have signed to has become a trend. It is so much of a trend that now if a player doesn’t enroll early, they fear falling behind as far as progress goes compared to the majority of their teammates that opted to do so.
An example for 2023’s signing classes is the University of Alabama under head coach Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide signed 28 players to their 2023 class. 26 of them enrolled for spring semester. By enrolling early, the players were eligible to participate in bowl game practices leading up to the Sugar Bowl this past year where Alabama played Big 12 champion Kansas State. One that did not enroll early was five-star defensive end Keon Keeley who arrived in late August for fall camp. Keeley was months behind his other freshman teammates that opted to enroll early, and could have been part of the reason he saw little to no playing time. Albeit at Alabama, it is difficult to get playing time as it is, but just an example.
Although the game still wouldn’t mean much, having these early enrollees at each school be able to participate in bowl games would give the fans and coaches a sneak peek for the upcoming season, and may help to increase interest in the games.
As it stands right now, early enrollees cannot participate in the bowl games, and with the number of opt-out’s growing to a record number in 2022 of roughly 195 according to an article by Deseret’s Doug Robinson, this may not be a bad idea instead of fans having to watch backups that they’re already seen for a few years.
Let the bowl game sponsors pay the players – The NCAA is working with legislation consistently over NIL. This shows that they’re open to players getting paid at the collegiate level. So why not let the sponsors pay for players to play in their bowl game as well? This is a one-time deal that’s not long-standing like an NIL contract, so sponsors may have an easier time agreeing to it. And if players are getting paid, one would imagine that less would opt out.
Limit the number of bowl games – By limiting the number of bowl games to a number as low as 19 in 1990, this would make the games more prestigious by nature, and players would potentially seize the opportunity more knowing that it was a more coveted opportunity to be in one, instead of half the teams in the country participating. Back in 1990, there were no teams even close to having a 6-6 or 5-7 record. In 2023, there are several due to the number of bowl games at 42.
One thing that’s happening most likely starting in 2024 that will help with bowl games mattering more and less players opting out is the expansion to a 12-team playoff. This in theory should mean that most of the high profile players on Heisman trophy and other post-season award finalist lists would be participating. And ultimately should help with higher ratings for bowl games as a whole.
While bowl games and their appeal will forever be an issue, expanding the playoff and exploring other options like mentioned above could be in the best interest of the players, coaches and NCAA. Time will tell if changes will come.