There was a time when college football bowl games were as much a part of New Year’s Day as hangovers and Bloody Marys.
And while there still will be six games played Saturday, the quality of those games is about equal to comparing a Big Mac to filet mignon.
A generation ago, the four major bowls — Rose, Sugar, Orange and Cotton, each dating back to at least 1937 — were all played on New Year’s Day with the mythical national champion emerging from this free-for-all of football when The Associated Press and UPI polls were released the next day.
This time around, only one of those games will be played on New Year’s Day — the Rose Bowl in Pasadena featuring TCU and Wisconsin. And as appealing as that matchup is, it has no bearing on the national title, which will not be decided until the Bowl Championship Series national title game featuring Auburn and Oregon on Jan. 10. That is right, nine days after the championship used to be decided. The rest of the major games are fragmented as well.
The Orange, Sugar and Cotton bowls will not be played until Monday, Tuesday and Jan. 7, respectively. Instead, on Saturday we get the likes of the TicketCity Bowl (Northwestern vs. Texas Tech) or the Outback Bowl (Penn State vs. Florida).
All four of those schools finished with mediocre 7-5 records. Not exactly the stuff of Knute Rockne and a ghost of a generation ago when schools with such marks might not even make the postseason, let alone play on New Year’s Day.
And, thanks to ESPN buying up the rights to 32 of the 35 bowl games, if you are one of the estimated 14 percent of homes in the U.S. without basic cable TV, you are left with one game, albeit a good one — ABC’s Capital One Bowl featuring Michigan State and Alabama.
The obvious culprit is television. ESPN is paying $125 million for the rights to show these games. And it is not about to program them against each other, as in the 1970s and ’80s when the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl were aired opposite each other on New Year’s night on ABC and NBC.
So viewers are left with mostly so-so teams playing who-cares games on cable. How long is it again until March Madness?
John Lindsay is a columnist with the Scripps-Howard News Service.