College Bowl Insanity

Gay Lynn HillStudy Break

As we ease into the new year, let’s focus on the lighter fare – college football!

you probably know that Alabama and Georgia will face off in the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship Game on January 8th. This game culminates after weeks of hype and is one of 40 – yes, 40! – college bowl games played throughout December into January.

It began innocently enough in 1902, when the Tournament of Roses Association sponsored the East-West football game pitting teams from opposite ends of the country in an end of season event. Beginning in 1916, the game was played annually and was renamed the Rose Bowl in 1923 when the newly finished Rose Bowl stadium became the host.

Traditionally, bowl games were played in warm climates such as those in Southern California, Texas, Florida, and Louisiana. When the bowls originated, commercial air travel was non-existent so enough time had to be given for fans and family to travel to the games. Therefore, when football seasons ended in late November and early December, several weeks were given for travel and bowl games were played on or near New Year’s Day.

Seeing the success of the Rose Bowl, other cities saw the potential for tourism and got into the act.  While the Rose Bowl was the only bowl game in 1930, by 1940, there were five: the Rose Bowl was joined by the Sugar, Orange, Cotton and Sun Bowls.  By 1950, the number had increased to eight games. Games continued to be added in each decade, culminating with 41 games by 2015.

So how did we get to this point?  ESPN is the reason, according to Business Insider, because they, and their parent company, Disney, has the most invested in the bowl games.  The reason ESPN is willing to pay to broadcast as many bowl games as possible is that live sports is what made ESPN king of cable and the bowl games fill empty time slots. While Fox and CBS are trying to get a bigger piece of the pie (they broadcast 5 of the 40 games), ESPN will continue to to rule the college football world for the foreseeable future.

The new playoff system has also begun to have an adverse effect on all these games, per USA Today, with more lower-tier bowl games being picked up on the cheap by for-profit companies such as ESPN Events – altering the complexion and business model of an industry that previously was exclusively run by local non-profit civic organizations that promoted tourism. So stay tuned on whether so many bowls games can continue to survive.

To learn some more fun facts, check out SB Nation which provides many answers to commonly asked questions about how college football bowl games work.