At the end of the 1997 season, the first annual Humanitarian Bowl was played in Boise, Idaho. Despite our collective attempts to get the color right on the television, the blue turf was still blue and bowl game 19 was added to the fray. Additionally, the MAC -- gaining traction in their own right -- began their own postseason bowl that year in Detroit. What had been 18 Bowls in bowl season was now 20 and a move towards obscure teams playing in mediocre locations to little or no fanfare began. Sure, there were already plenty of bowls with terrible names already, but corporate sponsorship as naming rights alone were still new and little did we know that in just over fifteen years, the entire system would be considered a mockery.
In these past fifteen years, we have added 15 bowls. That means that right now 70 teams go to the postseason to play some sort of 'extra game' to cap off a season of excellence. Of course, that also means that we are treated to 13 teams playing in postseason games with a record at or below .500 and 13 additional teams sitting at the ever-so-impressive 7-5 record, mostly won on the backs of terrible non-conference opponents. One might be quick to point out that College Football has also expanded since that season, but that would be a nice thought at best. From 1997, 8 teams have been added as full members for a total of 120 teams in FBS football. That's a 7% increase in size whereas there has been a 75% increase in bowls played. Let's just say that at minimum we can all agree that going to a bowl is far less cool than it used to be.
Still, none of these things answers what the point of bowls really are at this point. Sure, we could say that the BCS Championship Bowl Game is setup to figure out who the National Champion is and since the 1997 season, there hasn't been a disagreement on who the Champion really is (unless last year's fiasco counts), and the other major BCS bowls seem to be an indicator of who will get preseason hype and who won't. That's important enough a factor to get yourself up for the big game. However, even those facts are slightly overhyped as you can plainly see that some teams that won big games last year in hopes of a big 2012 (*coughMichiganSchoolscough*) fell flat and others who people were quick to write off, say Notre Dame, ended up outplaying expectations heaped on by bowl season. In the end, the narrative of bowl season mattering is a lot less interesting at this point. Who cares about the New Mexico Bowl? How about the Little Caesar's Bowl? Who makes these names?
And maybe it's that question that leaves me a bit wanting. Look, I know that College Football is a major money grab at this point. The absurdity that is a Non-profit entity making the types of money each bowl does seems crazy to me, but I am over arguing whether or not it's fair because it's somewhat non-relevant at this point. What I am annoyed by is the fact that we don't even try to dissociate bowls with companies anymore. Remember the Peach Bowl? The Copper Bowl? These were classics that are gone to the swath of corporate naming rights. Bowls used to have names that evoked something and now they are nothing more than a glorified exhibition game with corporate sponsors. Even if you're in a 'Better Bowl', you must admit that the sponsorship seems a little overblown to the point that you don't know if you're there to play a game or hock a sandwich.
Still, even despite all of my machinations to pare down the bowls to like 10 bowls or so, I must admit that I was watching Arizona-Nevada on Saturday. As Nevada imploded shortly after Indiana lost to Butler, I was at least satisfied knowing that bowls can be fun despite them having very little use to the season at large. The key point is that despite the corporatizing of football and the ridiculousness of 35 bowls, it's still College Football. It's 35 more games to sit back with some friends and watch crazy option plays, Boise Trick Plays (because it will happen), kids you've never heard of doing things you don't understand, and pomp at levels that make no sense. Sure, tickets are selling at a snails pace right now in the conference, but you know what? It's still one more game.
When the bowls are finished and we all get depressed because the Mayans were incorrect and either Alabama or Notre Dame are National Champions, there is a great chance that our fair conference will be bludgeoned by the media for yet another bad bowl season. That story will be tired and overblown and ultimately meaningless going into 2013. Even so, I don't think that makes these games any less fun. Somebody will win as an underdog, somebody will blow a big lead, and somebody will make a play that will be the best thing you've seen all year. If we're answering the question, "Does Bowl Season Even Matter?" one must decide what they want out of it. If all you care about is the media stories for next season, then it's a pretty cut and dry no. However, if you're just happy to have one more game for your team and 35 more games for your TV setup, then the answer is, "Who Cares?" Personally, I'm going with the latter.