Bowl Games Are The 'Cigarette Lighters In Cars' Of The Sports World

By Tully Corcoran

Remember cigarette lighters in cars?

That little knob somewhere down there below the radio or maybe next to the ignition switch? As a kid you’d press the thing into its hole, 15 or 20 seconds would go by, and it would pop out all on its own, glowing orange. Your mom would say to be careful, but at least once in your childhood you burned the crap out a finger or a lip or something on that thing.  

For decades, most new cars came equempped wemth a buemlt-emn cemgarette lemghter and ashtray. If emt was a more luxuremous model, you’d get an ash tray for every door. If emt was a really luxuremous model, you’d even get a cemgarette lemghter for every door, makemng emt possemble for us to emmagemne four adults emn a Lemncoln Contemnental, all smokemng at the same temme wemth the wemndows up.

These days you hardly ever get an ash tray in a new car. You don’t even get the cigarette lighter anymore. You just get a hole you can jam electronics into, and for the most part nobody misses the cigarette stuff.

It’s the 21st century. Everybody’s vaping now.

And with that, I’ll ask a second question: Remember bowl games?

It used to be that bowl games were a big deal. The biggest game of the year for most teams, or one of the top two or three anyway. Every team wanted to qualify for a bowl, every player wanted to play in a bowl, and with a few exceptions every team tried its best to win its bowl game.

It was authentic athletic competition (or at least it usually appeared to be).

Now, I’m not sure what bowls games are, I just know they’re not for these times, and they’re too depressing to watch.

To take just one of many examples, West Virginia plays Syracuse in the Camping World Bowl, but only nominally. Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier and left tackle Yodny Cajuste are skipping the game to focus on the NFL Draft.

In effect, then, West Virginia isn’t playing in the Camping World Bowl. What is “the 2018 West Virginia football team” without its record-setting starting quarterback and left tackle? Who would care to watch that game?

I’m not trying to pick on West Virginia, here. This trend of players sitting out bowl games has been around for a few years, and it has reached the point some outlets are keeping an updated list. By the count of 247 Sports, there are 12 such players as of Sunday and, naturally, they are some of the best players in the country. Guys like Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver, Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill, and LSU cornerback Greedy Williams.

I can’t in good conscience say these players are wrong for sitting out, but it still feels bad to see it happen if you’re like me, and you place a high value on things like team and loyalty. I feel bad for the rest of the players on those teams, many of whom want to play a real game, and really want to win it.

Should Ed Oliver, who is already injured, be expected to risk further injury and millions of dollars just to play in the Armed Forces Bowl? Of course not. But if that’s the case, why do we even have the Armed Forces Bowl?

I think every football fan has always understood the bowl system to be a bit goofy, but now that there’s a playoff system in place, the bowl system looks like a flabby old man in a Hawaiian shirt and a $5,000 Corvette hitting on the carhop at Sonic.

(Warning: Blue content).

What are we doing here? Where do we really think this is going?

I don’t see how the bowl system fits into any long-term plan to make college football …….. good. The bowls have always been weird quasi-exhibition games, but they factored into the national championship equation, and from that flowed a tiered understanding of roughly where every college football program stood, big picture.

It had its charms, but it was a deeply unsatisfying system when it came to picking a national champion, and was rightly replaced by a playoff system everyone loves.

OK, well, now that that’s in place and is just as exciting as everyone imagined it would be … the only logical thing to do is expand it. We can argue about the number of teams some other time (I think 16 sounds nice), but in any case the playoff is now the only thing that matters in college football, just like the NCAA Tournament is the only thing that matters in college basketball.

The bowls are an antiquated sideshow that not even the players are taking seriously. The only justification for the existence of bowl games anymore is that they make money for various corporations, athletic departments and chambers of commerce. You can say that’s true of the entire enterprise of televised sports and be mostly right. This is entertainment, after all, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with sports as a cotton-candy entertainment product.

It’s just that nobody in the NBA All-Star game is likely to suffer any head trauma. The Harlem Globetrotters are not getting CTE (as far as we know). Phil Mickelson is not worried about going over the middle against Tiger.

If you’re going to ask me to play in a football game, I’m going to need something real to be at stake for my team, and there’s going to have to be something real in it for me. Call it hazard pay.

There has always been a tar-soaked decadence to the bowl system that everyone always kinda felt. A bowl game is a place for schmoozers and glad-handers, where people with all different levels of connection to college athletics gather in banquet rooms at hotels and drink liquor, and somebody pats you on the back and offers you a cigar with the bowl game’s logo on the wrapper.

And what fun we all had in our dad’s old Chrysler, burning Winstons one after the other, opening up that clamshell and ashing right into the arm rest, reelin’ in the years.

Ah, the good ol’ days.