Driven by money, college football bowl system rewards mediocrity

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney walks the sidelines in the first quarter at BB&T Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney walks the sidelines in the first quarter at BB&T Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C.

— At least Rick Catlett was honest about it.

College football’s bowl and bowl championship system is all about money. Specifically, who can make bowls the most money.

“Our team selection is based on three criteria,” Catlett, the head of the Gator Bowl Association, told Jacksonville reporters this week. “Heads in beds, fannies in seats and big TV ratings.”

That isn’t just a Gator Bowl ethos; it exemplifies the entire bowl selection process. Without a playoff system, bowls are all about themselves and making cash.

“We’re not about college football,” Catlett said. “We’re about economic impact.”

If you’re a Clemson fan, you appreciate that system, and that sentiment.

If you follow Maryland, Boston College or Temple? Not so much.

Sunday, a mediocre, 6-6 Clemson team coming off a 29-7 beatdown from rival South Carolina got the best possible deal. Charlotte’s Meineke Car Care Bowl snagged the Tigers for a New Year’s Eve matchup with South Florida (7-5).

It’s a sweet situation for the Tigers; they get a short, two-hour trip up Interstate 85 for what will be a virtual home game against the Bulls; just four years ago, Clemson played a neutral-site game at Bank of America Stadium, waxing Temple 63-9.

In doing so, though, they jumped two teams with better records to get there.

The Champs Sports Bowl, which has the ACC’s No.3 bowl selection, picked 8-4 N.C. State over 8-4 Maryland. The Sun Bowl, more interested in ratings than butts in seats, picked Miami for a classic, ratings-rich rivalry matchup with Notre Dame.

Then, the Meineke took Clemson, and the tumble was on. The Terrapins, one of the ACC’s best stories, tumbled all the way to Washington D.C.’s Military Bowl, the league’s No.8 bowl option.

And what about Boston College? The Eagles finished the season on a five-game win streak for a 7-5 record. Their ACC record was 4-4, same as Clemson, with a 16-10 win over the Tigers.

Yet they were banished to something called the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco for a difficult matchup with Nevada on Jan. 9.

It could be worse, though; you could be a Temple fan. The Owls finished 8-4 – and will stay home. They’re one of only two bowl-eligible teams (6-6 Western Michigan being the other) shut out of postseason play.

What do BC, Maryland and Temple all have in common? You guessed it: historically poor traveling fan bases. Maryland had a season-ticket base of 19,000 this season. That’s why its bowl game is just down the Beltway.

“We’re disappointed in the process of bowl selection,” Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said.

Who can blame him?

In its current iteration, the bowl system rewards tradition, and, often mediocrity – two problems that an oft-discussed playoff system would solve.

If you’re a member of college football’s old guard, you fight to keep this system in place.

If you’re an outsider, you just shake your head in disgust.

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Comments » 1

richardcd writes:

Clemson doesn't deserve to be in a bowl game. That said, bowls were initiated to make money. Why else would they exist? Get over it.

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