Colleges should consider saying no to football bowl games

Colleges should consider saying no to football bowl games
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is sacked by Stanford defensive end Henry Anderson during the second half of the Bruins' 31-10 loss Friday. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Two schools with a history of greatness in college football have a real chance to make a statement this year about the current bowls system.

By not playing.


We speak here about UCLA and Notre Dame, and we are fully aware that we speak heresy.

If you were watching closely last weekend, neither team had anything left, especially Notre Dame. Both schools were playing games of significance and neither could find any motivation. When it ended, all they had left was embarrassment.

For whatever reason, these teams are done, cooked. All their Elvises have left the building. For UCLA, star quarterback Brett Hundley may wear Bruin Blue one more time, but he's already living the NFL shield.

What UCLA and Notre Dame did earlier in the season got them bowl-eligible. All it takes is six victories, and there are currently 80 teams that have achieved that. Not exactly special company.

What the Bruins and the Irish did last weekend was give us convincing body language that they want, and need, no more.

The Bruins beat USC a week ago, and, with a chance to get to the Pac-12 title game and maybe vault even higher, they stunningly packed it in. Their indifference made Stanford look like Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers.

The Fighting Irish were an affront to their nickname. They looked disengaged and disinterested in their beatdown by USC's Trojans. Cody Kessler looked like Tom Brady. Talented as he is, he isn't.

So why carry on?

This is not criticism of these young men, or their coaches. They obviously had a mojo for much of the season. But you can't disguise heart failure in a football team, and you didn't need a stethoscope to know that both teams had stopped ticking.

There are issues, of course.

UCLA plays in a conference that has contracts with certain bowls. To not play, the Bruins probably would have a legal fight. Lawyers might prevail, even at the expense of dead-tired, desire-sapped 19 and 20-year-olds.

Notre Dame reports to no higher authority — well, maybe just one, but one not likely to care about football. The Irish, being in their unusual independent role, have said no to bowls before, most recently in 2009, when they were bowl-eligible but had just fired Charlie Weis and were a team in total disarray.

They won't be firing Brian Kelly, but similar disarray was there Saturday. It was hard to tell whether Kelly had lost the team or vice versa.

Another issue that has become foolish doctrine and overdone coach-speak is that any team that gets a chance to go to a bowl should do so because it is then allowed a couple more weeks of practice. Good Gertrude. Isn't enough enough?


Is it also heresy to think that some of these players would actually like to go to school, would like a social life and a couple of weeks to just stop and smell the roses? The way it stands now, right after the bowl game, they can start counting the days till spring practice. The aches and pains will barely heal.

Then there is the biggest issue of all. The bowl system itself.

There are 39 of them, and 36 are merely window dressing for the four-team playoff. That playoff is worth getting fired up. There is history and legacy in a march toward a national title. There is neither in throwing body and soul around in the TaxSlayer Bowl. And yes, that's a real bowl.

So why do the other 36 or so even exist?

Well, partly to give many schools, rather than a few, the chance to feel good about themselves, to say they went to a bowl game. It's the give-every-kid-a-trophy-in-first-grade theory so currently prevalent in our over-nurturing and under-disciplining society.

College bowl season is also sold to a gullible public as great entertainment — a chance to travel somewhere different and root, root, root for the home team. Blind loyalty to your school is fine. But entertainment value in most of these games is highly questionable and certainly overpriced.

The obvious elephant in the room is that the college bowls are a corporate money grab, disguised as good ol' American apple pie.

It is all about ESPN, fattening its bottom line.

The schools get some money, but ESPN is the big winner. Of the 39 bowl games played this year, 36 will be on ESPN. The final profits for creating all this, after getting sponsors and finding sites and paying for broadcast teams, would be tough to figure. The massive value of the branding and marketing is unquestionable.

It is great American capitalism at its best, except that it is done on the backs of tired, often unmotivated college kids, and with the backing of school administrators, who preach education while pocketing ESPN blood money.

Some projections have UCLA in the Valero Alamo Bowl and Notre Dame in the Belk Bowl. Each bowl and its sponsor would benefit greatly from the participation of these high-profile schools.

These schools would make ESPN's ratings decent, especially for games nobody cares about, other than the doctors who will have to treat the new concussions and knee injuries.

Just saying no would be one small step for sports in general, one giant step for college football. Also mankind.