There are a lot of bowl games, and the proliferation of them the past decade or so has elicited plenty of complaints. People say it’s watered down the product to have so many 6-6 power conference teams or mediocre Group of Five programs facing off in postseason games.
But really, all it means is there is football on TV. If you want to spend a winter afternoon watching Western Kentucky take on Georgia State, have it. If you aren’t interested, then don’t watch. The programming is apparently worth it to the TV networks, chiefly ESPN, which owns most of the bowls.
And what it means for players, fans and recruits to get to play in the postseason has enough value to the schools they are often willing to take a financial loss to send their programs to a bowl game. It’s a nice way to celebrate a season. A reward for players who, need we remind you risk serious injury without getting paid, that usually results in some cool swag and a fun post-final exam trip.
Except for when it doesn’t. Four teams — Florida Atlantic, Memphis, Navy and Miami — are playing bowl games in their home stadiums. And that doesn’t count SMU merely heading out to the Dallas suburbs to take part in the Frisco Bowl. Where is the fun in that for the players? That’s not a weeklong vacation in a fancy hotel. That’s not an opportunity to explore a new city and take part in celebratory events hosted by a chamber of commerce thrilled to have you as a visitor.
It’s essentially another regular season game.
Obviously, the organizers of these bowls want to sell tickets, and sometimes picking the home team is one of the few ways to do that in bulk. The Military Bowl might sell out because of the proximity of Navy and Virginia. Memphis fans can save a lot of money this holiday season by sleeping in their own beds before heading to the Liberty Bowl. Florida Atlantic players still get to enjoy some of the Boca Raton weather.
But how memorable of an experience are those games going to be?
The coolest thing about the mid-tier bowls that some people would just as soon see go away is the way fanbases can take over cities like Nashville or San Antonio for a few days leading up to the games. The players see them out and about, at the banquets and pep rallies and it means something. Often more than the actual game.
That’s not the case with a major bowls, of course. If Miami winds up playing at home in the Orange Bowl, like it is this season, so be it. The implications across the sport are usually bigger than a mere postseason exhibition. Same would apply if UCLA was in the Rose Bowl or Arizona State the Fiesta.
— Orange Bowl (@OrangeBowl) December 3, 2017
But Florida Atlantic playing a home game two weeks after the Conference USA championship? It’s hard to even consider that a bowl.
If that’s what needs to be done to make the game work financially, perhaps the bowl game market really is saturated.