I graduated from Eastern Illinois University in 2008 with a degree in communications. I am a very big sports fan, except for hockey.
I will start out by saying this proposal is highly unlikely to happen anytime soon. The reason: money. Even for games that people aren't generally interested in, they will watch the game during the holidays. Whether it is because they want to escape family around the holidays or because there aren't other exciting programs on during the day, casual fans will tune in to watch. For that reason, networks will broadcast the games, and companies will sponsor the bowls to make money.
My proposal is this:
Expand the playoffs from 4 teams to 16 teams and cancel all (or at least most) of the other bowl games.
In this article, I will state reasons why the current format needs to be updated/changed, explain why my proposal will work, touch on some potential problems with my proposal, and then provide solutions to those problems.
Reasons the Current Playoff System Needs to Change
1. Too Many Bowl Games
For FBS college football teams to become eligible to be invited to play in a postseason bowl game (AKA: a team becoming 'bowl eligible'), the team needs to accumulate at least 6 wins throughout the season. There are currently 42 bowl games, and 82 spots to fill (42 bowl games including the national title game that is made up of the winners from the 2 semifinal games, that's why there are 82 spots instead of 84).
The problem is that there are not 82 teams that have reached 6 wins. That means that some 5-win teams (not bowl eligible) are in fact invited to participate in a bowl game. Is it just me or does something seems wrong with this?
The lower tier bowl games consist of teams that casual fans don't know anything about. Anyone remember the score of this year's epic match-up in the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl between North Carolina Central and Grambling? Unless you or a family member goes to one of those schools, I am assuming you do not (no offense to North Carolina Central or Grambling. I am sure they are fine institutions with fine football programs. No one is confusing them with Alabama and Ohio State, though).
2. Bowl Games That Are Not Part of the Playoff Are Essentially Meaningless
If a team is playing a bowl game and the bowl is not part of the playoff, the only difference between winning and losing is that the winning team gets to go home with a goofy trophy. The game isn't totally meaningless: Most bowl games are held in cities with nice, warm weather (always a plus for those teams that play in colder climates), and players and coaches get to have extra practices leading up to the last game of their season. While these are nice perks, they don't change anything for the season as a whole.
3. Some of the Game's Best Players Are Deciding to Skip Their Bowl Games
In recent weeks, some really good players (specifically Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette) have decided to not play in their team's bowl game to concentrate on their NFL futures. This makes total sense: As stated above, their bowl game is basically meaningless because it is not part of the playoff. Instead of going out there and playing in a meaningless game risking injury, these players are training for their NFL careers.
Even if they were to play and get injured, they will likely still get drafted but not anywhere close to where they were before getting injured; meaning less money and less certainty in their NFL contracts/careers. A potential injury could also be so severe that they never will be as good of a player as they were before the injury. With these future NFL players not playing, their bowl games are far less entertaining to the fans.
As stated above, my proposal is to expand the playoff from 4 teams to 16 teams and cancel all (or most) of the other bowl games. By expanding the number of teams in the playoffs and cancelling the other bowls, it would eliminate the most talented players in the sport opting out of playing in the meaningless bowl games.
The schedule would work out, too: This year, the conference championship games were played and the college football playoff teams were announced on the weekend of December 3rd. The college football playoff is slated to start on December 31 (4 weeks between the announcing of the teams and the first playoff game).
With my proposed 16 team playoff, the teams would still be announced on December 3rd and could either start December 10th (ending a week earlier than the current format) or it could start on December 17th and end the day it is currently set to end (this would be more likely since the semi-finals would be around New Year's rather than Christmas). If the playoffs were to start on December 17th, I would be fine with a few teams who just missed out on the playoffs play each other during the week in between the announcement and when the playoffs start.
Which Bowls Would Host?
As for which bowls would be hosting the games: The top 8 teams would have home field advantage for the first round and play at their home stadium. Starting in the quarterfinals (Round of 8), 4 of the New Year's 6 Bowls (Peach, Rose, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta, Sugar) would host a game. The 2 bowls that did not host a playoff game in the round of 8 would host the 2 semifinal (final 4) games (this system would rotate from year to year to be fair to the bowls/cities.)
The championship game would rotate from each of the 6 bowls every year, meaning each bowl site would host the national title game once every 6 years. Confusing in writing: Yes! Once set in motion, it is absolutely doable and makes complete sense!
1. Tradition of Bowl Games and Conference Affiliations
I would assume that some people would be disappointed in this proposal because it would ruin tradition of bowls being affiliated with certain conferences. Example: The Rose Bowl has historically pitted the best team from the Big Ten against the best team from the Pac12. While that specific tradition would likely end in this proposal, my point is that realignment has already killed a lot of traditions: There are 14 teams in the Big Ten, 10 teams in the Big 12, and Notre Dame (from Indiana) has most of its sports play in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Tradition is already gone.
2. 16-Team Playoff Is Too Many Games
Some people think that having a college football athlete play in 16 games is too much to ask. This could easily be fixed: Shorten the regular season. Instead of playing 12 regular season games (usually consisting of 9 conference games and 3 non-conference games), cancel the 3 non-conference games and just play the 9 conference games. This would either make the season start later in the year or have more bye weeks worked into the schedule.
I would also argue that having the college athlete play a potential 16-game schedule would help better prepare them for the NFL, if they make the NFL. The NFL has a 16-game regular season and then playoffs on top of that. A lot of rookies get worn down in the last part of the NFL schedule. Playing 16 games in college would help negate that.
A Great Sport Could Be Made Even Better
College football is a great sport as it is but it would definitely be better with a 16-team schedule and eliminating at least most of the other college bowl games. As for now, we will have to watch these mostly meaningless games until New Year's Eve when we can watch some college football games that actually matter.
What Do You Think?
David on January 05, 2017:
Excellent point about Army playing the SAME team in a bowl game that they already played during the regular season. So much for playing teams you don't play often!
But a win is a win! Go Black Knights!
Kathleen Cochran on January 05, 2017:
accumulate at least 6 wins throughout the season - Yes, wasn't it Miss State that won its bowl game but still ended with a losing season.
But you are right - there will never be fewer bowl games because of the money. I know for us ARMY fans, we played a nothing bowl against a team we already beat in the regular season, but because it's been sooooo long since we made it to a bowl - we were thrilled! And we won! (We beat Navy too BTW)
Bowls do affect next years rankings, but only until the season starts.
Kathleen Cochran on January 05, 2017:
"accumulate at least 6 wins throughout the season"