Hot Reads: Stop Being Mad About Bowl Season
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: Stop Being Mad About Bowl Season, Please

May 24, 2019

ESPN released its bowl schedule yesterday and it was an atrocity, an affront to mankind. Get a load of what the powers that be are doing to the sport this year.

That's . . . basically exactly the same as last year, and that's no way to respect the two most important days of the season. You may recall last week how there was no other TV between the penultimate and final episodes of “Game of Thrones,” every channel you flipped to was just TV snow or color bars. The NHL and NBA playoffs were put on hold. Hundreds of houses around the country went unflipped. Real housewives had real time to reflect on the last great piece of monoculture while not diminishing the second-to-last episode because the Real Housewives had a week off.

At least I think that's the argument here? After tweeting out that take, Wolken went on to write a column about this very bad bowl schedule:

This year, ESPN/ABC will broadcast 18 bowl games before the semifinals. It will broadcast 15 bowls, not including the national championship game, over the nine days following.

This is like going to a restaurant and being served the main course and the dessert before the salad.

Sorry, but the order matters. And if the College Football Playoff semifinals are supposed to be the centerpiece of the sport, they should be the last games played every year — preferably on New Year's Day, followed by the national championship nine or 10 days later.

Sorry, but the order doesn't matter. Bowl season isn't a 40-course tasting menu.* College football's postseason is really just three games, the two semifinals (the only games where the winner gets to go on and do anything else) and the final. People will pay appropriate attention to those games because of the stakes. That the Birmingham Bowl falls somewhere between those two tent-pole days doesn't mean a damn thing. In fact, it's the best thing about bowl season. They're just pieces of programming and treating them as such is the key to fully enjoying it.

On my list of things I'd like to do most on a regular Thursday afternoon, watching a college football game on TV is near the top of the list. That's true for all days, really. If there was one college football game every day of the year, I would probably watch at least part of all of them. On Thursday, Jan. 2, I will feel a sense of euphoria when I flip on the TV that afternoon and realize the Birmingham Bowl is on. It feels like a small miracle every time. Bowl season is basically this for three straight weeks, weird games in strange places on uncommon days at unusual times. It's everything I want.

The beautiful absurdity of this setup serves a few important functions. It underscores that these games really don't matter. You should definitely not feel better or worse about your team's upcoming year based on the result of a game that happens totally outside of the normal week-to-week rhythm of the season. (See also: Last year's Sugar Bowl.) Normally, you don’t engage in a hot chicken eating contest (pictured above) or hug an orca in the days before big games. This makes bowl games incredibly volatile, which is why you have to try to watch all of them. It’s also why none of it matters. You have to revel in the lack of reverence.

We're long past the point where a bowl game is a meaningful reward for a strong season, which is another common complaint. There aren't too many bowl games. There's not enough bowl games. I would 100% watch a game between the two worst teams in college football every year. Put it on Christmas and it might result in estrangement from my family, but what am I supposed to do? Not watch?

No, better yet, put the Worst Bowl on in primetime on title-game Monday and move the CFP final to 11 a.m. I honestly wouldn't care. It's one piece of programing that leads naturally into another. You already know who's best, let's find out who's worst! The Worst Bowl is next on Fox.

That would really drive home the point that being mad about the bowl schedule is a dumb thing to be mad about.

Wolken, in his column, turned that anger into a comment on the Rose Bowl's unwillingness to offer any scheduling flexibility.

Or, if the Rose Bowl just has to be on the afternoon of Jan. 1 so we can wax poetically about the sun setting over the San Gabriel Mountains, put the first semifinal at 1 p.m. on New Year's Day, followed by the Rose Bowl at 5 p.m., followed by the second semifinal at 9 p.m.

That would require the SEC and Big 12, which are the main stakeholders in the Sugar Bowl, to rework their contract and give up their traditional time slot. Trust us, nobody would know the difference.

Wait, so the time slot of the Sugar Bowl (i.e. the order in which it falls in the schedule) doesn't matter? I think we agree on this.

Anyway, have a good holiday weekend. I wish there was a Memorial Day game we could watch.

*If bowl season were a tasting menu and we were to just run this analogy into the ground by subscribing to the traditions of full-course dining and taking things very literally, you'd get something like this: Outback Bowl (bloomin' onion for the appetizer course and coconut shrimp for the fish course), CFP title game (main course), Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (salad course, though if we could revive the Salad Bowl that would be ideal), Cheez-It Bowl (cheese course) and, finally, a selection of fine fruits for the dessert course (Peach, Orange, Citrus), maybe with a carmelized Sugar Bowl. The dining analogy still doesn’t give proper respect to the playoff games.

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