'Tis the season for irrelevant and superfluous college football bowl games, a blight on the sports calendar.
Bowl season kicked off Saturday with five games, just one-eighth of the corpulent bowl slate. Who can resist the majesty of the Gildan New Mexico Bowl or the Raycom Camellia Bowl? I counted down to those games every year as a kid. What about you?
College football bowl games have become like Christmas tree ornaments — you always collect more than you need and piling too many on turns the look from appropriately festive to annoyingly tacky. We're officially in tacky territory. There were a record 80 bowl slots this year for 40 FBS bowls — that doesn't include the College Football Playoff championship game, or the Celebration Bowl, for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
There are 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Sixty-three percent of FBS teams will play in a bowl game.
If the Rose Bowl is "The Granddaddy of Them All" then it must have been Antonio Cromartie.
Nothing speaks to the habitual American tradition of rewarding mediocrity and dubious achievement like questionably named college football bowl games. There are spurious contests from Boise, Idaho, to Boca Raton, Fla., this season.
As an fervent college football fan, this is usually the time of year I go through separation anxiety, my Saturdays turning sad and barren without my favorite sport. Full disclosure, I will watch some of these bowl games I'm decrying to get my fix.
However, it is perplexing and disappointing that a sport with one of the most meaningful regular seasons has stuffed its postseason with a glut of meaningless bowl games featuring mediocre teams performing for the benefit of almighty ESPN, like court jesters in helmets and shoulder pads.
Playing 40 bowl games isn't about rewarding players and schools. It's about providing television content and creating tourist traps.
It should be a sign that the bowl game binge requires an intervention when there are not even enough teams to fill the 80 slots, as was the case this year.
To be eligible for a bowl game you have to have a pulse, err, win at least six games and finish with a .500 or better record.
There still weren't enough teams that reached that pedestrian benchmark to book a bowl trip, so the NCAA had to provide waivers to three 5-7 teams.
At least, the normally odious NCAA selected the 5-7 schools by virtue of their success in the classroom, a rare use of good judgment when forced to improvise by the governing body.
The NCAA used its latest Academic Progress Ratings (a measure instituted to hold schools accountable for graduating student-athletes) to grant exemptions to Nebraska, Minnesota, and San Jose State.
(Missouri, which was actually ranked second behind Nebraska in APR among 5-7 schools, did the noble thing, kept its dignity, and declined to play in a bowl.)
At least 5-7 San Jose State landed in the inaugural AutoNation Cure Bowl against Georgia State on Saturday. Money raised from the Cure Bowl will benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
If only all the gratuitous bowl games had such admirable and lofty causes behind them.
The gluttony at the bowl game buffet is stunning. In 1995, there were 18 bowl games, according to the college football website Saturday Down South. In 20 years, 22 bowl games have been added.
Earlier this month, NCAA president Mark Emmert remarked that a decision had to be made on the purpose of bowl games.
"Is it a reward for a successful season or is it just another game that we're going to provide an opportunity for? . . . We need to look hard at that," he said.
The NCAA can't control the proliferation of bowls, but it can control the standards for bowl eligibility. Elevating those standards could stunt the metastasis of IBS (Irrelevant Bowl Syndrome).
The passion and pageantry of college football make it vastly preferable to the pro game for some (raising hand). But the college game has the opposite affliction of the NFL when it comes to postseason play.
While there are too many teams playing in college football's postseason — which is not the same as the College Football Playoff — the NFL has too few teams participating after the regular season.
The NFL still has the same number of playoff teams it had in 1995 (12), when it had 28 teams, not 32.
When the NFL realigned to four four-team divisions in each conference in 2002, the playoffs stopped being a meritocracy and started being based on geography and rewarding mediocrity, making them a lot like . . . college bowl games.
Only stodgy reactionaries believe that just the traditional New Year's Day bowls should exist.
The legacy bowls are the Rose, Orange, Sugar, and Cotton. The Fiesta Bowl long ago earned velvet-rope status as a New Year's Day game. Those five bowls, along with the Peach Bowl, are part of the College Football Playoff rotation.
They're now known as the New Year's Six.
This year, the Playoff semifinals are the Orange Bowl, featuring Clemson against Oklahoma, and the Cotton Bowl, featuring Alabama vs. Michigan State.
Strangely, this year's CFP semifinals, as well as next season's, will transplant traditional bowls from New Year's Day to New Year's Eve.
There are some compelling bowl matchups outside of the College Football Playoff: Stanford vs. Iowa in the Rose Bowl, Notre Dame against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, Baylor and North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Oregon and TCU fighting to put up a score worthy of a San Antonio Spurs game in the Alamo Bowl is worth watching.
But most of these bowl games are as inane and regrettable as their corporate names.
Quick, who is playing in the prestigious Quick Lane Bowl? It's Central Michigan and Minnesota, a waiver recipient.
Sadly, the college football bowl game has evolved into the participation trophy of North American sports.
Everybody gets one.