Your likeliest response to such a claim is to scoff or to complain, but also to deny yourself the effortless indulgence of an event dubbed the Famous Toastery Bowl airing at 2:30 p.m. on a Monday featuring two teams with a combined 13 wins at a stadium on an empty commuter school campus in North Carolina where the predicted high temperature is 57 degrees.
What is a Famous Toastery? Is that toast, or a toasting device, or a toasting location? I do not care. I want that. I will watch that. If you don’t, that’s fine; there’s no shortage of demands on the American schedule during the holiday season. But none will ask less of you than the Famous Toastery Bowl. It’s consequence-free football, and it will be there if you need it.
Remember that this weekend when you’re stuck at a significant other’s holiday party, or you’re desperate to avoid discussing politics (or even worse, yourself) with family. That’s when you’ll remember the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl is on, and you can watch 6-6 Cal and 6-6 Texas Tech scrimmage the night away in a northwest Louisiana casino town as a “reward” for their “great seasons,” bankrolled by an opaque sounding defense contractor.
We need more Radiance Technologies Independence Bowls, not fewer. It’s true the postseason bowl system is partially responsible for college football’s stunted growth and tail-wagging-dog management, but not these bowls. The Independence Bowl isn’t orchestrating anything other than an otherwise forgettable good time in reasonably affordable Shreveport. Will you remember the game in two days? Doubtful. Would you pay $400 to watch it again four months from now during the football desert of the spring? Yep.
The uncomfortable rule of thumb is that the more prestigious the bowl game, the more toxic its influence on the sport. If you’re still mad about Florida State’s snub in the College Football Playoff, blame the cartel of bowls — the Fiesta, Peach, Cotton and Rose (especially the Rose) — that blocked playoff development for decades and then begrudgingly agreed to a minimized four-team bracket smaller than the five power conferences it was built to accommodate.
In two weeks, we’ll be asked to invest in the invisible stakes of the final, ludicrous iteration of the “New Year’s Six.” Two bowls (this year it’s the Rose and Sugar) will host actual, meaningful playoff games (that’s good!), while four others (the Peach, Fiesta, Cotton and Orange) will boast entirely worthless exhibitions among a smattering of very, very good teams that just missed the cut for the real postseason.
All of these games (No. 9 Missouri vs. No. 7 Ohio State; No. 11 Mississippi vs. No. 10 Penn State; No. 6 Georgia vs. No. 5 Florida State; and No. 23 Liberty vs. No. 8 Oregon) would be appointment viewing if they actually mattered at all. Instead, thanks solely to the arrested scope afforded by bowl tampering, we have a four-team playoff and then these … other games. Last week I spoke to staff members at three of the schools playing in these games about unrelated matters, and all three volunteered how little they or their programs actually cared about the outcome of these meaningless exhibitions.
Of course, none of those schools would dare say that publicly, but their behavior already does: As you trace the bowl schedule from now until January, with games supposedly increasing in “significance,” you’ll find an actual increase in interim coaches, departed coordinators and players gone to the transfer portal or opting out to prepare for the NFL draft. Expect a fresh Kirk Herbstreit jeremiad about those last two on the next “College GameDay,” but nary a peep about coaches skipping out.
And before you or Herbstreit begin to wax romantically about the Rose Bowl or any of these games, please understand this: I do not care about a Pasadena sunset on New Year’s Day. I am not from the Midwest; I am from the South, where we stopped caring about saying stuff like “Sugar Bowl Champions!” 30 years ago, and where global warming and an accessible Gulf Coast means we can demand a 12-team national postseason free of bowl influence and still enjoy a 65-degree January in romantic Pensacola.
There will be no Rose Bowl-level pretension in Mobile, Ala., on Dec. 23, when 6-6 South Alabama hosts 6-6 Eastern Michigan in the 68 Ventures Bowl. (I had to look up that one. It’s real estate. My first guess was Crypto.) What a public service this game is! That’s two days before Christmas! You could talk to an elderly loved one about the latest Hillary Clinton “news story” they found on “The Facebook,” or you could let .500 Group of Five football gently (and politely!) wash over any need for conversation.
Sure, the 68 Ventures Bowl (seriously, that sounds like a web site you’d be afraid to click on) is equally irrelevant to — if not more irrelevant than — Florida State and Georgia playing for absolutely nothing in the Orange Bowl, but it’s supposed to be. And that’s the point: Bowls used to serve as rarefied, meaningful showcases for a sport lacking enough confederation to create a champion. But then TV money came in, and these oddity events wielded “tradition” to fend off logic, and calls for sensible postseason reform were fought tooth and nail by the bowl cartel. Meanwhile, cable television inventory demands exploded the number of games, rendering their significance moot.
It’s all led us to a modern landscape where it’s suitable to poke fun at the random Goofy Sponsor Bowl in mid-December but still a formality to care about this year’s equally arbitrary Peach or Cotton Bowl, just because the schools and stadiums are bigger.
No thank you. College football is terminally American, therefore I will do my part by rejecting tyrannical governing structures while simultaneously consuming blandness. I will not watch New Year’s Six games in which the programs themselves would rather be doing something else. I will, however, attempt to watch six completely arbitrary FBS bowl games this weekend.
The future of bowls is in doubt thanks to the playoff expansion set to arrive next year. As of this writing, the scheduled first-round home games in the new 12-team format are under fire by bowl officials desperate to move those games to neutral-site NFL stadiums like the quarterfinal and semifinal games, all to charge stupidly expensive ticket prices and sell hotel blocks. Those are the concerns of important bowls, and important bowls have a 100 percent history of acting against the best interest of the sport.
The Myrtle Beach Bowl is not important. But the team I grew up cheering for, Georgia Southern, will play Ohio in Myrtle Beach, S.C., at 11 a.m. Saturday. If Georgia Southern wins, it will provide little to salve a disappointing 6-6 season and a four-game losing streak. If Ohio wins, I’ll probably shrug and forget the details of the game in a few days.
This behavior will appropriately reflect the merit and significance of the game. It will be an honest transaction among the fine people at the Myrtle Beach tourism board, myself, and ESPN charging ad rates for live sports instead of replaying a talk show, all without affecting or arresting college football’s postseason.
It is football, and I will watch it. It is an American birthright that this sport distract us during uncomfortable times. The smaller and more meaningless the bowl game, the more ethically sourced that distraction is.