A postseason is not an exhibition, it’s a tournament to declare a champion — except in major college sports. Men’s college basketball has the NIT, and college football there’s bowl season. Both were more prestigious decades ago, but at least no one is harping about the sanctity of the NIT anymore. College football’s bowl season, that’s a different story.
The number of bowls have doubled over the last 25 years and might have tripled if the NCAA hadn’t put a three-year moratorium on the creation of new ones from 2016-2019. Even Jimmy Kimmel has a bowl game now.
While ESPN tries to fill its entire programming calendar, from the Heisman Trophy presentation to Wild Card Weekend, with college football games, the players are seeing the naked greed and those whose time would be better spent focusing on their future NFL careers are electing not to play in these exhibitions.
It makes sense. If players are not on one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff that have a chance at a national championship, there is no reason to risk their professional futures by playing in a game that has no meaning. However, there are still people waving a fist in the air and shouting about the tradition of bowls not being respected by the modern college football player. One of those people is ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit.
He is of the belief that there is no such thing as a meaningless college football game. Herbstreit made this point during a talk with the media on Monday, and went too far yesterday on College Gameday when he flatly said, “I think this era of player just doesn’t love football.”
First, Desmond Howard, you don’t get a pass on this. As soon as Herbstreit finished saying football, you jumped right in with “That’s what I was about to say.”
After Howard finished, Rece Davis gave Herbstreit an opportunity to walk back what he said because Davis is good at his job and knows that people shouldn’t make sweeping indictments like that, especially on television. Herbstreit did clarify on camera (and by tweet later) that he meant some players don’t love football.
Herbstreit is a great analyst, but this take was bad not just because at first he took out an entire generation of football players, but because he’s still holding on to this feeling of traditional college football as a pure crispy autumn afternoon with children drinking Dr. Pepper and rooting for the name on the front instead of the name on the back.
This business of college sports has been laid bare for decades now. The administrators, the people who run the bowl games, the television executives, they’re in this for the money. In a world where it grows harder by the day to get people to watch live television, they know a good number of people will always watch football and that will bring in money from advertisers.
Tradition is not a good enough reason to justify anything, but what is traditional about the host of a late night talk show having a bowl game or dumping mayonnaise on a coach to try and get more people to spread Duke’s on their turkey sandwich.
The players see all of this, and Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave is supposed to risk injury and potentially cost himself millions of dollars if he slides in the draft to play in a New Year’s Day exhibition game just because it happens to be the Rose Bowl?
All Olave would be doing by playing in that game is helping Ohio State, Utah, the Rose Bowl, Capital One, the Big Ten, the Pac 12, and Disney. He has put plenty of tape out there to show that he is one of the best players available in the 2022 NFL Draft, and can do nothing to improve that in a game that is, sorry Herbstreit, meaningless.
Postseasons are meant to declare a champion. That’s what the College Football Playoff does now, that’s what the major bowls did when he was a player. Anything else is just an exhibition and college football has been lining its pockets with those exhibitions for decades and will continue to do so. Fortunately, these days the players know this too, and have the choice not to let their bodies be used for a cash grab, special presentation.