Jon Solomon makes a pretty strong case that the conferences have done an excellent job of watering down the bowl season. Take this year’s pool of participants:
Twenty of the 35 games (57 percent) involve at least one team that qualified with no more than one victory against a winning Football Bowl Subdivision opponent. Cincinnati won nine games while beating one winning FBS team. Six bowl participants didn’t beat a single winning FBS team: Nevada (7-5), East Carolina (8-4), Central Michigan (6-6), Rice (6-6), Vanderbilt (8-4) and Purdue (6-6).
The Boilermakers’ reward for firing their coach and finishing at .500: Playing on New Year’s Day.
Oh, yeah, New Year’s Day. It used to be special. Nowadays, not so much. There’s been a steady devolution of the product.
From 1953 to 2009, no team without a winning overall record ever played on New Year’s Day — or Jan. 2 in years when Jan. 1 bowls moved to avoid NFL Sundays. That’s happened four times in the past four years.
At first, just brand names (Florida State, Florida and Ohio State) invaded New Year’s Day with a 6-6 record. Purdue joins that club this year by playing Oklahoma State (7-5) in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Jan. 1.
At the 2010 Outback Bowl, Auburn became the first team in 62 years to play on New Year’s with a losing conference record. Six more teams have since followed: Northwestern, Texas Tech, Michigan, Florida, Ohio State and now Purdue.
Mississippi State, Purdue and Wisconsin play on New Year’s this season with either a .500 or losing conference record, meaning that’s occurred in 13 of 33 New Year’s bowls over the past six years. That happened in just six of the 221 New Year’s bowls from 1968 to 2007.
This is what the big conferences want. They had a chance to raise the floor on wins eligibility and took a pass. They could raise standards any time they want to. They just don’t want to do that.
“I think when people went back to their conferences, they found out there’s an awful lot of support for 6-6,” Waters said. “That’s probably a comment on the uniqueness of football’s postseason, that with 35 bowls it means at the end of the year we have 35 winners. That’s 35 athletic directors that get a step up on selling season tickets, and 35 coaches who a month later are going out in recruiting and talking about winning the bowl game.”
Now, personally, I don’t mind having 35 games. But that’s because I love watching college football. And Lord knows I wouldn’t travel to watch most of those games in person. The thing is, I have the unsettling feeling that the people in charge mind my attitude less and less. As more and more TV revenue money floods the system, why should they?
And don’t tell yourself the new playoffs will help stem the tide. They’ll only devalue the downticket games even more. As long as we keep watching, though, that shouldn’t matter. And if we do stop, they’ll just expand the playoffs to get our attention again.