Posted: Wednesday December 14, 2011 9:44AM ; Updated: Wednesday December 14, 2011 2:30PM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

Bowls don't hold same reverence for younger fans; more mailbag

Story Highlights

For a generation brought up on the BCS, most bowls are seen as a sideshow

Heisman voters defied current trends in giving Heisman to Robert Griffin III

Plus, the Pac-12's trend of hiring offensive gurus, draw of LSU-Alabama II, more

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The lure of bowl games will only decline as games like the Pinstripe Bowl continue to be irrelevant.
The lure of bowl games will only decline as games like the Pinstripe Bowl continue to be irrelevant.
Ray Stubblebine/REUTERS
The Mandel Initiative Podcast
Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III talks to Stewart and Mallory about his life-changing weekend in New York, including David Letterman and those Superman socks.


More Mandel Initiative | Find on

'Tis the season to be jolly -- for this weekend's New Mexico Bowl!

OK, not really.

While I still love the bowl game experience, I fully concede that the century-old business has drifted miles from its original intent. The preponderance of lower-tier, made-for-TV games like this weekend's encompass almost no elements of their more revered counterparts. The outrageous ticket demands placed on schools and the move to more games played well past New Year's make the Sugar and Orange Bowls an easier ticket than most regular-season SEC games.

But most of all, there's the fact that after 13 years of an official national championship game in college football, there's a growing segment of the public that remembers no other way -- and thus, understandably, can't comprehend why the sport continues so adamantly to protect games that have no bearing on said championship.

As a current college student who attends a D-I school without a football team, I don't see the allure of the bowl system. I do not see the allure of the bowls as many others seem to, granted my history has been heavily tainted by the BCS. Though I think many of my peers feel the same way. Is this something that I'm just too young to understand or do many older fans fell the same way?
-- Sean, Philadelphia

As I've written before, my seminal moment as a college football fan -- the experience that forever ensured my love affair with this sport -- was traveling with my friends (and seemingly the entire Northwestern student body) to Pasadena for the 1996 Rose Bowl. Bowl games are sports' only postseason event actually geared to the spectators. It's difficult, if not impossible, to follow your team on the road during the NCAA tournament, which is why I've covered many early-round games where the stands are half-empty. Similarly, if your team is a low seed in the NFL playoffs, forget it. You're watching on TV with the rest of us. Even the Super Bowl is played mostly before VIP guests in largely antiseptic stadiums.

But if you're Sean, attending a school with no football team, you're never going to have this experience. And I have certainly noticed the generational divide of which he speaks. Old farts like me remember the days when your team's loftiest goal in any year was to get to a bowl game, and the national championship was just a poll that came out after the bowls, but most anyone under the age of 25 only knows the sport in the BCS era -- which means they've been subjected to 13 years of angst. All they want is a better way to determine the national championship, and the bowls are seen primarily as obstacles.

I do believe the overwhelming majority of fans still get excited about their team's bowl games. Just look around this year: Schools like Stanford, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Kansas State sold out their ticket allotments nearly as soon as they were available. Wisconsin and Oregon have sold out their roughly 50,000 combined allotment of tickets for the Rose Bowl. But elsewhere, Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Clemson are struggling to sell Sugar and Orange Bowl tickets in part because the games are so devalued that the secondary tickets are much cheaper. Holding the games midweek after New Year's doesn't help. Either way, the schools get stuck with the cost of unused tickets -- a ridiculous business practice for which the bowls are rightly criticized.

You can see the writing on the wall. As the growing generation of BCS-conditioned fans becomes more populous, the reverence for bowls will continue to decline. The much-discussed plus-one might help the Sugar and Orange bowls regain relevance, but eventually, any bowl that doesn't play a role in determining the national champ will become a sideshow, with the notable exception of the Rose, the one game that still holds regional significance in the Midwest and West and which fans still flock to annually. As long as 60-year-old men are still charged with administering the postseason, the bowls have nothing to worry about. Once those people start retiring, though, it could be another story.

Hey Stewart. Many will find it surprising that the Heisman Trophy winner came from Baylor. However, do you think it's just as surprising that a player from a three-loss team not in serious contention for a national title (or a conference title late in the year) won the award? It seems like the winner normally comes from a very shallow pool of teams contending for national titles late in the year.
--
Kevin F., Framingham, Mass.

I found this year's Heisman race incredibly refreshing for the very reason you state: For once, it seems like the electorate truly sought out the best player, rather than just the best player from the best team. There were certainly contributing factors. For one, the No. 1 team (LSU) didn't have an offensive player in the discussion. Tyrann Mathieu made a late bid, but he was never realistically going to win the thing. Secondly, in recent years that final weekend has held inordinate influence on the final outcome, and RG3 benefited tremendously both from playing and winning that last Saturday while previous front-runners Andrew Luck and Trent Richardson did not.

Keep in mind, though, the three-loss thing is not unprecedented. Florida was 9-3 in 2007 when Tim Tebow won. Texas was 8-3 when Ricky Williams won in 1998, Auburn 8-3 when Bo Jackson won in 1985. But these examples also show how unique Griffin's win was. Tebow and Jackson were household names before their seasons ever began, and Tebow produced 51 touchdowns. Williams broke the NCAA rushing record. While diehard college football fans certainly knew Griffin coming into the year, for most voters, their first exposure to him came that opening night against TCU. And yet despite competing against far more recognizable players like Luck and Richardson, despite playing for a long-irrelevant team, despite that team slipping to 4-3 at one point and never seriously contending in the Big 12, voters still recognized him as most outstanding come day's end. I'd like to think it speaks to a more informed electorate, but it may well be that people really just like the socks.

 
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