BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 12/23/2015

College bowl season: When is too much enough?

A record 10 Pac-12 schools, including Washington and Washington State, are among 80 schools playing in bowl games, nearly all of which are meaningless except for the donor parties.

The Cotton Bowl will host Washington in the Heart of Dallas Bowl Saturday. /

The college bowl season, always chubby, has become obscenely obese. Every time I see ESPN’s happy-talk announcers try to shove another bit of fluff down our holiday throats, I’m reminded of the waiter, played by John Cleese, in The Meaning of Life, a Monty Python film.

He attempts to persuade the gigantic Mr. Creosote, who has just consumed the equivalent of a week’s worth of JBLM commissary food, to eat a final after-dinner mint.

“It’s wafer-theen,” the waiter says to the momentarily reluctant glutton.

“Oh, all right,” says Creosote. If you can stand to see the results of too much, click here.

Increasingly, sports consumers are threatened, in the manner of Mr. Creosote’s nearby diners, to be covered in effluvia. Dished up with 40 (40!)  bowl games, plus the national championship game, they all become one big, vomitous Famous Idaho Purple Battle Frog Military Outback Camping World Marmot Bowl (Can’t make it up: All are sponsors).

Speaking of which, the Huskies play Southern Mississippi  in something called the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl at 11:20 a.m. Saturday. Until I looked it up, I didn’t know what a Zaxby was (a chain restaurant), but I have been to Dallas, and I know there’s no heart there. That’s what a school gets at 6-6: A low-rent bowl the day after Christmas.

But in a truly aggravating coincidence, 20 minutes before the kickoff of the HoD semi-blockbuster, Washington State starts its game in the Sun Bowl in El Paso against Miami. If more proof was needed that the college bowl season is run out of the trunk of a 1959 Firedome DeSoto, the evidence of simultaneous starts for teams from the same state should draw a guilty verdict.

Laments are not confined to sports consumers. Participants too. Take it from Chris Petersen, the Huskies coach. Petersen usually won’t say anything bad in public about anything. Serve him a slice of gravel pie, and he’d say these are the best rocks he’s ever tasted.

Even he was feeling a gag reflex at the prospect of 5-7 teams making the field. Indeed there are three — Nebraska, Minnesota and San Jose State —  given exemptions from the .500 or better rule in order to fill out Creosote’s . . . um, the bowl field.

I think there’s too many bowls,” he said before the Apple Cup, when his Huskies were 5-6 and on the edge of the new bowl wasteland. “Everybody likes to play football. So to get a chance to play another game and all those things, that’s one issue.

“A long time ago, when Washington was playing in Rose Bowls, it was like the Rose Bowl or nothing.  That’s kind of how I grew up, as well. So the bowls keep coming, the bowls keep coming, and now in some ways records aren’t really as important as they used to be with all that stuff.”

Not only are records unimportant, so are most of the games. But since ESPN owns outright nearly all the minor bowl games, they are going to thump the tub hard to make you think they’re all Ali-Frazier IV.

Only 127 teams play big-boy college football, so to reward 80 of the them is close to little-kid-ball participation ribbons. A record 10 Pac-12 schools are in the field (how dumb do you feel, Oregon State and Colorado?).

Then again, Arizona State, at 6-6, gets to play in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl in Tucson Jan. 2. I would consider a Motel 6 in Tucson the day after New Year’s as a blown holiday.

The postseason has become so bloated that even the NCAA has taken notice. You may think that should be obvious, but the NCAA is capable of missing a battleship in a hot tub.

NCAA president Mark Emmert, the former University of Washington strongman, worked up a partially genuine tsk-tsk.

“The members are gonna have to figure out, what’s the purpose of bowl games?” Emmert told USA Today this week. “Is it a reward for a successful season or is it just another game that we’re gonna provide an opportunity for? . . . We need to look hard at that.”

Well, good luck. The NCAA has no authority over the bowl-bid system; it’s an independent enterprise, although its henchman, ESPN, controls much of the action by subsidizing most of the games. Yes, the NCAA does certify each game, but that standard is the same as the one for entry into the Republican presidential field: A valid driver’s license.

The NCAA members could vote to raise the minimum record for eligibility to 7-5, but that would kill at least a half a dozen games. That’s precisely what the schools don’t want, because it defeats the real purpose of the bowl games: To reward rich donors and top executives with a week-long, expenses-paid Sun Belt bacchanal of golf, shopping, poolside parties, premium booze and food.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy a good chandelier swing into the fountain of chocolate as much as anyone. But don’t try to paper it over with “15 more practices are great for the players” treacle.

When it comes time to make that vote for a 7-5 minimum, a school president is going to think about the rich booster wavering on, say, a $1 million donation. Then he thinks about foregoing the chance to take the guy across the Rio Grande to Juarez to see a traditional Christmas show by Juicy Lucy and her trained Gila monster.

And he votes to keep it at 5-7.

Watch next year: There will be 42 bowls.


  • coug73

    Fun read. The Firedome reminded me of my Dad’s 1955 red coupe convertible DeSoto, now that was a great ride.
    Juicy Lucy and her trained Gila monster maybe one of the more wholesome entertainments in Juarez.
    Too much money and too many bowls. Who’s watching these early bowl games, not I.

    • art thiel

      The Firedome. 1950s chick magnet.

  • jafabian

    If anything I wish they’d spread them out more and none should be played after New Years beyond the National Championship game. With so many bowls out there I don’t like when they have several playing on the same day. I’m still hoping for the day Seattle gets to have it’s own bowl annually. it was fun when the Seattle Bowl was here even though they played it at Safeco Field.

    • Tian Biao

      in my opinion, the desecration of Safeco field by ncaa football (was it stanford?) was what launched the Mariners on their fifteen year tailspin. ps great read, Art, as usual. and for what it’s worth, i agree. But hey, that’s the future: more playoffs in every sport. the extra revenue appears to be irresistible.

      • art thiel

        That Seattle bowl was Tyrone Willingham’s highlight. Things went down for both.

    • art thiel

      The Seattle Bowl. Can’t think of a single redeeming virtue.

  • Jamo57

    Hmm…..chandelier swing into a fountain of chocolate……Juicy Lucy and her trained Gila monster……waking up in a Motel 6 in Tucson……

    I’m wondering if this is truly a commentary or some sort of weird sub-conscious confessional from a veteran sports writing road warrior.

    Happy New Year, Art and I look forward to reading about your resolutions! ;-)

    • art thiel

      I have been to all those places, but would never engage in sordid behavior. Although the melted chocolate is really hard to wash out of a sports jacket.

      • Jamo57

        On a more serious note, your column reminds me of a similar complaint I have regarding cable media and the presidential campaigns. Quite frankly, the only ones served by a two year election cycle are the political consultants and the cable news networks.

        The bottom line in each case is the ubiquitous bowls and presidential debates merely serve to provide reality TV programming for the respective networks. And perhaps a connection can be made between the political consultants and the coaching staffs being very well compensated for providing the content.

        And perhaps the fan and citizen are poorer for it.

        • art thiel

          Not a bad analogy. Both are mindless appeals to our lowest common denominator.

  • MrPrimeMinister

    Remember when new years day had the Rose, the Orange, the Sugar, the Cotton, and maybe the Fiesta bowl? All played on the sameday within the same time. If you go tired of one, you could flip to the other. If you got tired of that one, then you could flip back or find another one. Here’s the thing, the networks ahd to compete for the viewer. Each network had to be creative to get the viewer. NBC had the Rose, CBS had the cotton, ABC had the Sugar. That is what made those broadcasts great–the networks actually had to work to show a great product. With ESPN, they are all cookie cutter bowls. One is exactly like the other. One right after another. The drab announcers are the same. They all say the same things. The camera work is all the same. The matchups themselves are bland. I just wish the networks could get those games back.

    • art thiel

      Gorging is rarely a good thing, even with ice cream. John Belushi would tell you that, if he could.

  • John M

    OK, Art, I’ll double down on the accolades the others have spread like nettles on the path of dome. You were a bit slanted about Tuscon though. There are much worse places to wake up there than a Motel 6 . . .

    • art thiel

      I’m not looking to go worse. Trying to upgrade.

      And thanks.

      • dingle

        At my age, if I wake up in a Tuscon Motel 6 on January 2, I’ve done something either very very right or very very wrong.

        Either way, it’s a win.

        • art thiel

          Except if you awake in a bloody tub with a kidney missing. Oh, wait, that’s Las Vegas.

  • David Freiboth

    Here’s the up side now days, Arthur … the season matters again. With so many meaningless bowl game (that I no longer tune in to) what matters is how well a team does during the, wait for it, REGULAR SEASON! (not shouting, emphasis)… You know, just like the distant days of our youth when there were only four bowl games on New Years Day (just as god intended) and what mattered was whether a PAC 8 team did well enough during the regular season to win the conference so they could go to the Rose Bowl. Now a-days claiming that a team is going “bowl eligible is about as engaging as learning who the next unfortunate Mariner manager will be …. meh …..

    • art thiel

      Yes the regular season in col FB has great relevance, but it is balanced by the irrelevance of 90 percent of the postseason.

  • giannisee

    Most entertaining read. It reminds me how I feel every time the “World Cup of Hockey” resurfaces or learning that the FIFA club world cup has a new champion. “Oh yeah. That.”

    • art thiel

      Thanks. At least those other events lead to a championship. 95 percent of today’s bowls are eggless omelettes, to steal from Steve Rudman.

  • Just Another Bullwhip

    Totally agree. I was working out today in Los Angeles amongst the silicone and effects of bad plastic surgery, which is one thing in Hooterville’s favor (as even a producer
    in Malibu commented to me recently after getting back from Seattle), and my
    mind wandered to the old Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl. There was a meaningless bowl game
    on TV, which probably got me thinking along those lines. But at least with the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl it was one of a finite number of games, so often I watched as a younger boy. Then my mind wandered to the old New Year’s Day lineup–starting with
    the Cotton, then the Rose, and then moving on to what often seemed the best
    game of the day, the Orange Bowl, which also is where the greatest Husky game
    took place. The Sugar Bowl of course was squeezed in as well. And that was it. Now, in
    typical American fashion, the weight of the masses, and what that connotes, has
    increased its momentum in this area to the point where even the bowl game
    season is one trashy relic of something that used to be great. I was thinking of going to the Rose Bowl this year, but then thought, “Why spend that money on something that,
    even in the case of the Rose Bowl, means nothing these days?” This is all symptomatic of the same cause and effect that causes me to watch the Canadian broadcasters when I am watching an NHL game between a Canadian team and an American team and I have the choice between which telecast I want to watch. The Canadian broadcast is not overloaded with crap running across the bottom of the screen, and commercials superimposed over the screen every spare second, etc. America, among other things, is the effect of the quality of the masses that inhabit America at any point in time. And what the Bowl season has become is just another shinning example of today’s America.

    • art thiel

      As John Belushi wanted his gravestone to say, “Sometimes too much is not enough.”

      • antirepug3

        Or maybe “too much of a good thing can be wonderful.” Mae West

  • Jeff Shope

    too many participation ribbon bowls

  • bugzapper

    “Okay, all you college presidents, look under your chairs! You get a bowl game! YOU get a bowl game! YOU GET A BOWL GAME!”

    • art thiel

      NCAA = Oprah.

      I like it.