By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Bowl games are sort of like compact discs, just not as far along in the process of becoming outdated and irrelevant.
The rise of the college playoff, the birth of the transfer portal and the fear of injury with lots of money on the line is combining to make bowl games less appealing for some of the star players and for some of the viewers.
Bowl games are one of the driving forces in college football, a reward for a job well done and a chance to cap a long and grueling season in a nice place with nice weather and nice people.
They just don’t carry as much weight as before, and that doesn’t sit well with Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, who is one win shy of tying Joe Paterno (10) for most bowl wins as a member of the Big Ten Conference.
Iowa is preparing to face 9-3 Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl on Saturday in Orlando, Florida.
The game will be played in the same city, and exactly 17 years after arguably the greatest play in Iowa bowl history occurred as Drew Tate connected with Warren Holloway on a 56-yard touchdown pass as time expired to beat Louisiana State 30-25 in the 2005 Capital One Bowl.
It was also Nick Saban’s last game as the LSU head coach, and that just added to the drama, and to what is now a legendary play.
“I know it’s a hot topic coming into work this morning, that was being discussed on the college station, just about the importance and relevance of bowl games and a lot of debate about that certainly,” Kirk Ferentz said. “A lot of things out there right now competing for college football players’ interest, whether it be the NIL, transfer portal, early entries, opting out of bowl games, all that type of thing. A lot of conversation about that stuff.
“And the bottom line is we still think it’s a relevant thing, first and foremost. To earn a bowl bid is significant. It’s important to us in our program. It’s important to our players and I think it’s really important to our fans also. So, the way we look at it, it’s still a pretty big deal.”
For a developmental program such as Iowa, bowl games are important because making the playoff is usually beyond reach, and still would be a monumental challenge even if the playoff field were expanded to eight games.
But for the blue blood programs, where for many, it’s playoff or bust, bowl games are not a big deal anymore.
It probably won’t be long before a star player on a playoff-bound team decides to opt out for fear of injury.
Consider what’s happening with the Rose Bowl, the grand daddy of them all, where Ohio State has returned 7,000 of the 20,000 tickets it was allotted for its matchup against Utah.
It’s not a playoff game, but come on, it’s still the Rose Bowl.
And yet Buckeye fans seem to be saying that if it isn’t the playoff, then we’re not that interested.
Call them spoiled, entitled or selfish, or whatever, but Ohio State fans are sending a message that times are changing.
Also sending that message are four of Ohio State’s best players, who have opted out of playing in the Rose Bowl, including receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave.
Iowa junior running back Tyler Goodson has decided to skip the Citrus Bowl to prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft, and of course, to avoid injury.
Iowa State running back Breece Hall also will skip Wednesday’s Cheez-It Bowl against Clemson in Orlando for the same reasons as Goodson.
Both of their decisions make sense, and they certainly have the right to pursue their dream, and to do what they feel is in their best interest.
But these decisions also shows that bowl games are losing their appeal under the current circumstances.
Shonn Greene won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best collegiate running back for Iowa in 2008 and also played in the Outback Bowl that season.
But that was 13 years ago and times have changed.
One of the biggest problems with bowl games, and in my opinion, the biggest problem, is that there are just too many of them.
The market is saturated with too many mediocre bowl games matching teams either at .500 record-wise, or barely above .500.
It would seem at the very least that a winning record should be required for bowl eligibility. However, the problem with that reasonable approach is that there are so many bowl games to where it’s often impossible to find enough teams with a winning record to fill the spots.
There currently are 44 bowl games, so it takes 88 teams to fill those spots from a field of 130 FBS teams.
The global pandemic has made filling the spots even more challenging this season with at least five teams having to cancel due to Covid-19 health concerns.
The first bowl game is played on Dec. 17, and more than three weeks before the national championship game on Jan. 10.
Does the bowl season really need to last almost a month?
It’s just too long, and too much.
However, it would be premature, and an overreaction, to say that bowl games are headed for the same fate as the dinosaurs because there still is enough money involved, and enough people with power and influence, and enough interest and support to keep them going.
But should the playoff continue to expand, which seems likely, then bowl games will become even more irrelevant.
More players will opt out for safety reasons, and more fans will say thanks, but no thanks to attending bowl games.
It just seems inevitable.
There is no right or wrong in this case.
Just blame the changing landscape for what’s happening to bowl games.