Will the “Big Six” Become the Future of Bowl Games?
The announcement of playoffs beginning in 2014 gives a sense of what's to come, but still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. The semifinals will happen at bowl games, including the four current BCS bowls and two that are as yet to be determined. The championship final will go out to bid, presumably like a Super Bowl. That should pretty clearly create a top-tier of bowls. Few, if any, teams will be able to consistenly earn playoff bids. So a bid to one of these "major" bowls, will probably be considered a worthwhile standard of achievement for those that just can't quite make it to the playoffs.
We know that the Rose, Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta will be among the top four bowls. The Cotton would probably be a strong contender as well. The sixth bowl might be the biggest question. The Capital One Bowl currently has the largest payout. The Chick-Fil-A bowl has the benefit of offering something slightly different regionally (i.e. it doesn't take place in the same state as any of the other major bowls). Hard to say if there could be any other real contenders.
Bowl games left out of the mix probably lose that much more interest and credibility with fans. Already the economics have become questionnable for the smaller bowls. Teams often lose money by attending. Some of the talk about raising the number of minimum wins that a team needs in order to be eligible for a bowl bid from 6 to 7, while seemingly a plea for more deserving teams to be selected, also spares teams that lose the most money on these games from having to participate. It seems more than a bit incongruous for a coach to be fired for underperformance despite taking his team to a bowl. It's hardly an acheivement that fires up the alumni anymore. It's not hard to imagine these non-playoff bowls becoming increasingly marginalized if not disappearing altogether.
A Worthy Goal
Certainly teams might write "playoff bid" at the top of their list of goals each season. But it's not the kind of thing that many teams will be able to acheive with much consistency. Tom Osborne managed to end the regular season ranked in the top four just eight times in 25 seasons. By contrast, his teams were among the top dozen teams at the end of the regular season 23 times. Bo Pelini has yet to head into bowl selection as a top twelve team, but he's been in the ballpark. And he's among a small number of coaches to win nine games or more in each of the last four seasons.
The reasons to preserve bowl games might have more to do with tradition and recruiting (i.e. an attractive reward for the players) than any true clamoring by fans. Until a broader playoff field of eight, twelve, or sixteen teams becomes the norm (which seems inevitable), it's nice that there will still be a postseason that can be inclusive of the good but perhaps not great teams. A "Big Six" bid can continue to convey a certain amount of prestige and bragging rights, even if it can mean that your team was not a true playoff contender. In the meantime, we'll probably still have a few more years of the TicketCity Bowl and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on our TV's.