Do bowl games matter? Yes and no
Every FBS football program wants to go to a bowl game. It’s a stamp of success — it used to be, anyway.
Everybody involved with the football program wins. Just as important, programs that don’t go to bowls lose. But in most cases, going to a bowl game is much more important than winning it.
RELATED: Mizzou turns down bowl opportunity
Why is going to a bowl game so important?
The players get to take a holiday trip, pick up more than $500 in swag and play on TV.
The coaches get to pacify administrators, boosters and alumni with bragging rights and a holiday trip. They also get two or three additional weeks of practice with the players to improve for the next season.
Universities gain in many ways, from increased exposure in the form of national media and TV coverage to spikes in alumni donations and student applications. It all leads to improved facilities and a stronger academic reputation.
The student body gets the non-tangible, but very real, boost of morale — and bragging rights –that comes with associating with a successful football team.
Though only two of the 41 bowl games played by 80 teams in the next month will matter as far as determining a national champion, they all matter.
No team wants to be one of the 50 or so FBS programs that doesn’t go to a bowl game. It’s demoralizing for the program — from the players and coaches to the boosters and fans. Misguided as it may seem, students want to go to schools with successful football teams.
Do bowl games mean as much as they used to mean? No. Thirty years ago, only 38 teams made bowl games — fewer than half of this season’s total. Given that most SEC schools schedule at least three “automatic” non-conference victories, it only takes two or three conference victories to win the minimum six games required for bowl eligibility.
But winning a bowl game rarely translates into future success or failure. Bowl games have always been seen as more reward and entertainment than do-or-die competition.
The AP poll released its final rankings and crowned its champion before the bowl games until 1965. Winning a bowl game rarely moves a team up more than a few spots in the final rankings.
Why would bowl victories translate to future success?
With a break of eight months or so between bowl games and preseason practice, momentum gained from a bowl victory is fleeting. And most top recruits have already made their college choices prior to the bowl games.
Since the NFL began accepting players only three years out of high school, team lineups change more from season to season. So many players on winning bowl teams don’t come back the next fall.
While winning a bowl game can set a positive tone for offseason workouts, losing a bowl game could just as easily serve as incentive to work harder.
It’s hard to find any definitive pattern between bowl victories and continued success.
For instance, 2014 national champion Ohio State lost to Clemson in the Orange Bowl after the 2013 season. Ole Miss bounced back from an embarrassing loss in last year’s Peach Bowl to beat Alabama and earn a Sugar Bowl berth.
Oklahoma and Alabama, losers of bowl games last season, rebounded to become the two favorites in this season’s College Football Playoff.