What College Football Bowl Games Don’t Want You To Know About
College Football Bowl Games are one of the most profitable and anticipated US sports events of the year. They guarantee entertainment at a time when lots of people have free time and winter weather keeps them indoors. The heart of college players invested on the field for sixty minutes straight is what enraptures the crowd and keeps them coming back for more. What you do not see, however, is the biggest game-breaker of all: the balance that leads up to the games and the journey of a team’s commitment to glory.
Following the regular season, National Collegiate Athletic Association Football (NCAAF) teams are faced with a question: how should they use the extra weeks between the regular season and the bowl games? Practice is a given, but with many starters and regular rotation players bruised up from the regular season, recovery is essential, leaving redshirt players or future contributors to get some extra repetitions before next fall. Coaches use “early bowl practices'' as workouts for developmental players (USA Today). Then, when the bowl games approach, the starters come back into the mix and the team’s vision returns to winning. The balance challenge — the key to success — lies in finding how much time teams should spend preparing for next season vs. preparing for the actual bowl game.
"We've got a bunch of young talent on this team, a lot of guys that haven't been coached a whole lot since fall camp," Dabo Swinney, the Clemson head football coach, said via USA Today. “And so (we) get the varsity out of the way and take this young group with however much longer we've got in the season and really try to shorten the learning curve and build a good foundation with a lot of these guys who we're counting on in the spring." Some coaches even think the extra practices give them an advantage or head start over other teams heading into the next season.
In addition to practicing, the weeks leading to the bowl games allow for opportunities for team bonding. With campuses getting quieter in the wake of winter break and tests winding down, players can use the few weeks to go on team trips or schedule other bonding activities. This not only helps take their mind off the big game, but it helps improve team chemistry for future seasons. (via Sports Illustrated)
One controversy about bowl games is that some top players skip the games in order to stay healthy or prepare for the NFL draft. Mike Leach, the Mississippi State head coach, believes that players opting out of competition is too “bizarre” to comprehend: “That’s part of it. You owe it to your team, you owe it to your fans, you owe it to your coaches and it’s the most bizarre thing in the world to me.” (Yahoo) For him and many others, one last game with one’s teammates is not worth skipping.
On the other hand, a single, sometimes meaningless game could jeopardize a player’s entire career. An anonymous scouting director for an NFL team weighs in: “Put yourself in their shoes; an injury could change the course of the rest of their lives. We're not talking about a left guard here. We're talking about a skill (position) player who is a huge target. That's the reality of it." (NPR) The scout was referring to Christian McCaffrey’s and Leonard Fournette’s decision to skip their respective bowl games in 2016 — both reasoning that their futures should not be at stake for just one game. In reality, only the two playoff games that take place after New Years’ Day really matter. The rest of the games are rights to bragging rights and revenue generation for the NCAA. As a result, players can be justified in their decisions.
Moreover, bowl games sometimes require a year’s worth of preparation. Behind-the-scenes work is extensive and taxing on the crew members and cities hosting the game. Games can produce up to $50 million of economic impact on the cities. Despite the measures required for our excitement, the games bring the full package every year. And despite some teams missing their star players, we can always expect an action-packed game with two elite teams.
Tune into this year’s bowl games starting December 17th until the National Championship game on January 10th.