Friday, January 3, 2014

Football bowl games are not what they used to be

This is day — what? — of the college football bowl season. There has been at least one bowl game on television every day or night since sometime around the beginning of Advent. Who can keep track any more?

Gone are the days of New Year's Day bowls stacked one over another all day long and into the night. You had to choose which one to watch. You couldn't possibly watch them all, even if you had a TV remote control, which you didn't. You had to physically get up and turn the knob to get a different channel, and because all TV was broadcast, you might not get a clear picture on one or more of the games.

The big bowls were the only bowls at the time — the Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl — and they were all played in warm climates so that those of us shivering in a poorly heated house could vicariously feel the tropical warmth shown on TV. Those days are long gone. Bowls have proliferated. Someone noticed that attracting 100,000 football fans for a holiday weekend was good for the local economy, so bowls grew in all sorts of places, such as Memphis, Nashville, Orlando, Atlanta, Tempe, and so on. It got to the point that there were so many bowls that teams with barely winning records received guaranteed bowl berths. Thus, we have bowls pitting two 6-6 teams against each other in stadiums that are more than half empty.

While they may have been money-makers for the local economy, bowls were expensive to put on, so corporate sponsors were added with companies like Continental Tire and Tostitos corn chips lending their names to bowls.

And, of course, television ruled everything in collegiate football (just as in collegiate basketball). The TV rulers determined that it would be better for their ratings if the big bowls didn't compete for viewers' attention, and so the bowls were spread out from early December to sometime in January with starting times determined not by local clocks but by the national prime time. Tonight's game starts at 8 or 8:30, which means I might watch the beginning of the game but probably won't watch the end.

For all its flaws, college football is a supremely entertaining and exciting athletic/art form. I have watched bits of most of the bowl games this season, excepting the arcane bowls in out-of-the-way places pitting two mediocre teams against each other. Some of the games (such as Duke vs. Texas A&M) were supremely suspenseful and entertaining, and some were runaways. That's the way college football is.

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