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Peak Perspective: Redoing the Bowl Structure

While we have time, let’s change everything up.

During the weeks without Mountain West football, the extra time lent itself to attempting new and creative ideas for posts. Today’s column is one of those ideas. Let’s breakdown bowl season and build it back up.

The Issue:

It’s pretty simple; there are a lot of bowl games. A lot. Forty of them, to be exact. Of course, they are meaningful to the teams playing, but to the casual fan, no one is interested in a 6-6 team playing a 7-5 team at 1 pm on a Thursday. Or worse, an 11-3 team playing a 6-6 team on a Saturday during primetime. When people say there are too many bowl games, they likely mean that there are too many bad bowl games.

Why do these poor matchups occur? Primarily because ESPN and other networks are making a fortune off of it, but secondly, it’s because of bowl tie-ins with conferences. Conference tie-ins prevent the best teams from playing one another and hinder better matchups for the sake of tradition or preservation, which boils down to helping traditional powers and rich schools getting all the benefits.

The Solution:

This is an attempt to get some consistency and common sense in bowl season. This plan suggests a few different layers, and each specific layer can be accepted or discarded depending on preference. For those traditionalists who want a smaller bowl world, focus on the playoff part of the plan. For those who want as many games as possible, don’t care, or understand that the money won’t allow games to go away, the entire plan can likely be accepted.

Change the conference tie-ins for bowl games.

First and foremost, end or change the current conference tie-ins for bowls. Keep the traditional ones for major bowls if it’s a deal-breaker, but end the Big-12 #3 vs. ACC #4 games. Instead, find the best matchups. If money is dictating the number of bowl games, move to more of an at-large model. Make the primetime weeknight and weekend games the best matchups, preferably with as many ranked teams playing one another as possible. If the TV networks want as many games as possible, keep what we will call the third-tier bowls on the weekday morning or early afternoon time slots, so they have some worth.

Expand the playoff to 8 teams.

People around the internet, writers, and some coaches have been calling for playoff expansion for a few years now. It makes too much sense, so let’s make it happen.

The eight teams are made up of the five champions from the major conferences (B1G, SEC, Big 12, ACC, and PAC12), the top Group of 5 conference champion (or the AAC champ until further notice), and then two at-large teams (but really, the SEC and B1G conference runner-ups until further notice). Note that expanding doesn’t mean there still won’t be teams saying they should have gotten in. If five teams are deserving for four spots, making spots for eight teams is more likely to mean little separation between teams 7-10. This is about money really, but the point here is this is the natural progression to what was initially proposed in the “+1 model”.

Seeding follows the traditional highest vs. lowest-ranked teams. Meaning the #1 team plays the #8 team, #2 against #7, and so on. Perhaps one of the additional benefits of college football is the lack of tanking, even with this model. A team likely couldn’t try to lose and risk dropping out of the top 8 entirely, unlike other sports that have longer seasons and thus more room to finagle circumstances.

The extra round of playoffs would take place during bowl season in December. This both builds the hype towards the championship and keeps the season from stretching out longer. The quarterfinals are the weekend before Christmas. The semi-finals stay around New Year’s Eve and Day, and the championship can remain in it’s normal Monday in January slot (although college championship Mondays never seems right).

Use the existing NY6 bowls, which eliminates the “access” bowls but makes them all have the same weight every year. The six bowls can either rotate between four quarterfinal games and two semi-final games, or the bowls can be designated for specific rounds/games. Meaning the Fiesta bowl could always be a quarterfinal game and always be the 1v8 game, or everything can rotate.

Obviously, the Rose Bowl is the sticking point, as usual. It doesn’t want to move out of it’s New Year’s Day time slot. That’s probably fine, as most people love the Rose Bowl. Therefore, put each bowl in a designated spot, and that’s where they stay. The Rose Bowl is a semi-final game. What about the tradition of Big10 vs. PAC12? If Rose and Sugar bowl want to keep the conference structure, let them. Then the conferences and bowls have to choose between tradition and better chances to advance in playoffs (because keeping conference affiliation would mess up seeding, perhaps the #2 and #3 teams met in the quarterfinals one year). It may put the Rose Bowl at a crossroads, choosing between their cherished New Year’s Day slot and their cherished conference affiliation. If they aren’t willing to do either, remove the Rose Bowl from the playoff and have it be the biggest bowl in the tier-2 category. Keep the day and time slot, take the best teams from the PAC12 and Big10 who don’t make the playoff and play the game. Millions of people will still watch.

Tiered Bowl Games

How many total bowl games should there be? No one will ever agree on that, but let’s adopt a tier system and have everyone pick their favorite tier.

Tier 1 is discussed above. Have only the eight-team playoff, and put the best teams against one another other.

Tier 2 seems like the best compromise. Having many games for more than just the best eight teams but not going overboard where any school with a pulse seems to make a bowl game.

This would put the top 30 teams in bowl games. You take the traditional top 25 and take a few of the next best teams, which would likely include no team with fewer than eight wins during the season. All remaining Group of 5 champs receive auto bids into this tier if they are not already ranked in the top 30. College football needs to reward conference champions regardless of their conference as college basketball does. This model also factors in the level of competition, as P5 conferences get auto-bids in the tier 1 bowls, where most G5 conferences get sent to the tier 2 bowls with their auto-bids, again similar to how the NCAA tournament works with seeding the conference champs. Note that tier 2 bowls are still destination games with pretty good payouts. Think more of the (new) Vegas Bowl, Outback Bowl, Holiday Bowl, and less of the Bahamas Bowl, Boca Raton Bowl, and Belk Bowl.

The top 30 teams would mean 15 games, but since this also includes the playoffs, it brings the total to 18 bowl games. That is a good amount to keep December and early January exciting but not enough where it feels like overkill.

Of course, teams are paired together based on the best matchups and not conference ties. Maybe it’s not quite 9 vs. 10, 11 vs. 12, and so on. But perhaps teams are pooled in groups of 4 or 6 (9-12, 13-17) and look at the best matchups in those groupings with factors like matching up teams who wouldn’t usually play one another, rotating bowls, so players get different experiences, and fans traveling.

Tier 3 would basically be the current structure, albeit with some trimming of the fat. Seven wins get you in a bowl. Six wins make you bowl eligible, but it doesn’t automatically mean a team will make a bowl. This eliminates the 5-7 teams altogether, and it also means some bowl games get put on the chopping block. There’s no need for 34 bowl games, so sorry Papa Quicken Loans Alamo Sunset Bowl presented by Goodyear.

If ESPN wants to fill morning and early afternoon time slots and make their money, there’s no stopping them. If teams had a pretty good season and want to end the year playing another team that had a pretty good season, go for it. However, keep those teams in their own cluster and never match them up against a ranked team. Through in another seven bowl games or so and air them on weekends as warm-ups to the playoff games. That brings the grand total to 25 bowl games, which is much better than the 40 bowls played last winter.

Conclusion:

Bowl season is season fun, and people love it every single year, despite its flaws. Bowl season can also be improved upon, and sometimes less is more, especially when “less” is still quite a lot. Most importantly, bowl season should be great matchups with teams who may have never played one another before and not the same old structure built on keeping certain schools in and others out. Bowl season is best when it’s unpredictable, and this altered structure gives it the best chance to be unpredictable on a yearly basis.