In North America, a bowl game is one of a number of post-season college football games that are primarily played by teams belonging to the NCAA's Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). The term "bowl" originated from the Rose Bowl stadium, site of the first post-season college football games. The Rose Bowl Stadium, in turn, takes its name and bowl-shaped design from the Yale Bowl, the prototype of many football stadiums in the United States. In turn, the National Football League (NFL)'s "Super Bowl" is a reference to college football bowl games.
Prior to 2002, bowl game statistics were not included in players' career totals and the games were mostly considered to be exhibition games involving a payout to participating teams, which had to meet strict eligibility requirements. The number of bowl games has grown in recent years, climbing to 39 team-competitive games starting in 2014–15. The increase in games allows virtually every team with a non-losing record – twice seeing waivers for teams with losing records (UCLA 2011, Georgia Tech 2012) – to earn revenue for participating programs and to recruit new players to the teams. With the increase to 39 bowl games in 2014-15, the NCAA has eased the bowl eligibility rules to make teams with a losing record fully eligible to participate without the need to apply for a waiver.
The term "bowl" has become almost synonymous with any major American football event, generally collegiate football with some significant exceptions (such as the Super Bowl). Two examples are the Egg Bowl, the name of the annual matchup between the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Ole Miss Rebels, and the Iron Bowl, a nickname given to the annual game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers.
The use of the term has crossed over into professional and collegiate Canadian football. A notable example is the annual Banjo Bowl between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League (CFL). Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) plays two semi-final "bowl games" before the Vanier Cup national championship game. The Uteck Bowl is normally played between the Atlantic Division Champion and the champion from another division. It is usually held at the venue of the easternmost team playing in the semi-finals. The Mitchell Bowl is played at the venue of the westernmost team participating in the semi-finals.
- 1 History
- 2 Professional bowl games
- 3 Bowl games today
- 4 Outside North America
- 5 Criticism
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
The history of the bowl game began with the 1902 Tournament East-West football game, sponsored by the Tournament of Roses Association between Michigan and Stanford, a game which Michigan won 49-0. The Tournament of Roses eventually sponsored an annual contest starting with the 1916 Tournament East-West Football Game. With the 1923 Rose Bowl it began to be played at the newly completed Rose Bowl stadium, and thus the contest itself became known as the Rose Bowl game. The name "bowl" to describe the games thus comes from the Rose Bowl stadium. Other cities saw the promotional value for tourism that the Tournament of Roses parade and Rose Bowl carried and began to develop their own regional festivals which included college football games. The label "bowl" was attached to the festival name, even though the games were not always played in bowl-shaped stadiums.
The historic timing of bowl games, around the new year, is the result of two factors—warm climate and ease of travel. The original bowls began in warm climates such as Southern California, Louisiana, Florida and Texas as a way to promote the area for tourism and business. Since commercial air travel was either non-existent or very limited, the games were scheduled well after the end of the regular season to allow fans to travel to the game site. While modern travel is more convenient, all but 5 of 35 bowl games (as of 2013-14) are still located in cities at or below approximately 36° N.
The Rose Bowl was the only major college bowl game in 1930. By 1940, there were five major college bowl games: the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl (1935), the Cotton Bowl Classic (1937), the Orange Bowl (1935), and the Sun Bowl (1935). By 1950, the number had increased to eight games. In 1960 there were still eight major college bowl games, but by 1970 the number had increased again, to 11 games. The number continued to increase, to 15 games in 1980, to 19 games in 1990, 25 games in the year 2000 and as of 2010[update], 35 games in total. Up until around the 1950s, games were played solely on New Years Day, with the only major exception being the holiday occurring on a Sunday. In the late 1950s, more bowl games began playing their games earlier in December. Also bowl games began to be set in cities which were not thought of as winter vacation destinations due to their colder climates.
Currently, college football bowl games are played from mid-December to early January. As the number of bowl games has increased, the number of games a team would need to win to be invited to a bowl game has decreased. With a twelve game schedule, a team may have six wins and be invited to a bowl game. As of the completion of the 2012 season, the University of Alabama has played in more bowl games than any other school, with 60 appearances. Alabama also holds the record for most bowl victories with 34. The Nebraska Cornhuskers hold the record for longest streak of consecutive bowl game appearances at 35 straight (1969–2005). The longest active streak is Virginia Tech with 21.
The attendance of 106,869 for the 1973 Rose Bowl set the Rose Bowl Stadium record, as well as the NCAA bowl game attendance record. The Rose Bowl stadium still is the largest capacity stadium and the Rose Bowl game has the highest attendance for post season bowl games.
In the 1990s, many bowl games began to modify or abandon their traditional names in favor of selling naming rights. While some include the traditional name in some form (e.g. the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio), others have totally eliminated their traditional name in favor of solely using their corporate sponsor's name (e.g. the former Citrus Bowl became the Capital One Bowl after the financial services company Capital One bought the naming rights).
Because of the vested economic interests entrenched in the various bowl games, the longer regular season compared to lower divisions of college football, and a desire not to have college players play several rounds of playoff games during final exams and winter recess, the Division I Bowl Subdivision long avoided instituting a playoff tournament to determine an annual national champion. Instead, the National Champion in the Football Bowl Subdivision has traditionally been determined by a vote of sports writers and other non-players. The current system, in use since 1998, is the Bowl Championship Series, a selection system that creates five bowl match-ups involving ten of the top ranked teams, including an opportunity for the top two to compete in the BCS National Championship Game. The BCS relies on a combination of both the traditional polls and computer models to determine relative team rankings, and to determine the top two teams to play in the National Championship Game. Nevertheless, the system of bowl games has been challenged often.
In 2012, the commissioners of all eleven football bowl subdivision conferences, as well as the athletic director from Notre Dame, met and reached a consensus to refer a four team, seeded playoff to the BCS' President Advisory Committee. On June 26, 2012, the presidents approved the playoff structure, named the College Football Playoff, to begin at the end of the 2014 regular season.
Professional bowl games
The National Football League also used the name "bowl" for some of its playoff games. While the NFL Championship was not named a Bowl initially, the league instituted the Pro Bowl as the name of its all-star game in 1951, and introduced the Bert Bell Benefit Bowl (also known as the Playoff Bowl) as a matchup of the two second-place teams in each division from 1960 to 1969.
When the professional football AFL-NFL merger occurred in 1970, the AFL-NFL World Championship Game became the NFL's championship and is now known as the Super Bowl, as it has been named since 1968 (the name was coined by Lamar Hunt after watching his daughter play with a super ball). There has also been the American Bowl, a preseason match held overseas, and various one-time games informally nicknamed bowls, such as the Bounty Bowl, Ice Bowl, Snow Bowl, Freezer Bowl, Fog Bowl, Mud Bowl, Tuna Bowl, Manning Bowl, Harbaugh Bowl and the proposed (but ultimately canceled) China Bowl.
As a result, other professional football leagues used or use the name Bowl for their championships, such as the World Football League (World Bowl), NFL Europe (World Bowl), Arena Football League (ArenaBowl), Indoor Football League (United Bowl), Great Lakes Indoor Football League (Great Lakes Bowl) and American Indoor Football Association (AIFA Championship Bowl). The Canadian Football League nicknames one of their rivalries as the Banjo Bowl and another QEW Bowl (also known as the Battle of Ontario); like most Canadian sports leagues, however, the CFL's championship is instead known as a cup (in the CFL's case, the Grey Cup).
Bowl games today
At the NCAA top level of football, the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (known as Division I-A from 1978 through 2005), teams must earn the right to be bowl eligible by winning at least six games and by not having a losing record during the season. They can then be invited to a bowl game based on their placement and the tie-ins that the conference has to each bowl game. A rule change for 2010 allows bowls to tender a bid to any team with a 6-6 record before teams with more than six wins. Bowls are popular among coaching staffs because the NCAA allows college teams going to bowl games extra weeks of practice they would otherwise not have, and bowl games pay the teams for their participation. Teams belonging to a conference split the money with their conference mates. For the 2010 season, 70 of the 120 Division I FBS teams played in a bowl game. At lower levels, teams play in playoff games with a national championship game at a neutral site, like a bowl. The Heritage Bowl was the only true bowl for teams below the FBS level. It invited the top teams from historically black colleges and universities, one from the SWAC and one from the MEAC.
Prior to 1992 most bowls had strict agreements with certain conferences. For example, the Rose Bowl traditionally invited the champions of the Pac-10 and the Big Ten conferences. The Sugar Bowl invited the SEC champion and the Orange Bowl hosted the Big 8 conference champion. These conference tie-ins led to situations where the top-ranked teams in the country could not play each other in a bowl game. The national championship was decided after the bowls, solely by voters for various media polls, who tried to decide which team was best, sometimes based on wins against far inferior teams. As a result there could be multiple championship titles and no single champion. This led to the term "Mythical National Championship," which is still used to describe high school national champions, since high school sports have state championship tournaments but not national.
In 1995, the Bowl Alliance, formed by the major bowls and conferences, put in place a system where the two highest ranked teams would play each other, even if they were each affiliated with a different bowl. However, the Pac-10 and Big Ten and the Rose Bowl did not participate. Number 1 vs Number 2 bowl match-ups became far more likely, but were not guaranteed. After the 1997 season, undefeated Michigan was ranked first in both major polls, but as the Big Ten champion, they played eighth-ranked Pac-10 champion Washington State in the Rose Bowl. The top Bowl Alliance team, #2 and unbeaten Nebraska, faced one-loss, third-ranked Tennessee in the Orange Bowl. Michigan won by five on New Year's Day and the next night, Nebraska beat Tennessee (playing with an injury-hobbled Peyton Manning) by 25. The AP kept Michigan as the champion, but the Coaches' Poll jumped Nebraska, playing its final game for retiring coach Tom Osborne, in part because of their more lopsided victory against a more highly ranked opponent.
The following season, the Rose Bowl, Pac-10, and Big Ten joined the other bowls and major conferences to form the Bowl Championship Series. The BCS attempts to match the two highest ranked teams in the country with the winner named champion at the conclusion. The AP poll reserves the right to crown a separate team champion, last done after the 2003 season, when three teams were equally worthy of reaching the BCS championship game. One-loss LSU won the BCS National Championship over Oklahoma, but the AP crowned one-loss USC champion after its Rose Bowl win. It is the nature of college football that there may be more than two teams worthy of playing for a title when there is not a post-season playoff in place, and the BCS attempts to match two national title contenders to play each other, instead of lesser teams.
For the 2006 season (with some bowl games taking place in 2007), the BCS added a fifth bowl that would decide the national championship. This BCS National Championship Game is between the first and second ranked teams according to the BCS formula. This was discontinued following the 2014 BCS National Championship Game.
The College Football Playoff (CFP), the successor system to the BCS, is the system in American college football that will determine a national champion beginning in the 2014 season. Under the playoff, four teams will play in two semifinal games, with the winners advancing to the new College Football Championship Game. Six bowl games — the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and Chick-fil-A Bowl — will rotate as hosts for the semifinal games. The rotation is set on a three-year cycle with the following pairings: Rose and Sugar, then Orange and Cotton, and then Fiesta and Chick-fil-A. The semifinals, plus the other four top-tier bowls not hosting semifinals, will be marketed as the "New Year's Six", with three bowls played daily, typically on consecutive days that include New Year's Day.
The championship game will be played on the first Monday that is six or more days after the semifinals. The game's venue will be selected based on bids submitted by cities, in bidding processes similar to the Super Bowl, the Final Four, and the Frozen Four. Unlike the BCS, the new format will not use computer rankings or polls to select the participants. Rather, a committee of 13 people will select and seed the teams. The playoff system will be the first to determine the top-level NCAA football championship by a bracket competition. The new format is known as a Plus-One system, an idea which became popular as an improvement to the BCS after the 2003 and 2004 seasons ended in controversy.
The College Football Playoff will use a seeded four-team single-elimination tournament to determine the champion. A selection committee will fill out the bracket, determining the semi-final pairings based upon tournament seedings:
Small college bowls
Aside from the BCS System and the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision, there are a few bowl games for smaller colleges. One such example is the Victory Bowl sponsored by the NCCAA, a group that does not restrict its membership to either NCAA or NAIA. Another example is the College Fanz First Down Classic, a pre-season bowl game for NAIA teams. Starting with the now defunct Wheat Bowl, the NAIA found it easier to schedule bowl games early in the season rather than late—this allowed the schedule to accommodate large college bowl games and high school sports. The two most well-known and long-running of the small college bowl games are the Mineral Water Bowl and the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl.
Special games and rivalries
Bowl games that are not part of the post-season are traditional games against rival schools such as Iron Bowl and Egg Bowl. In the BUAFL, the Steel Bowl is contested between the Sheffield Sabres and Sheffield Hallam Warriors. Recently, the term "bowl" has been added to other games that have some special note or sub-plot to the actual game, in college or the National Football League. Examples of this are the Bowden Bowl, Manning Bowl and Ice Bowl. However, any game that is part of the post season is considered a bowl game, even if it is not a formal bowl game, such as all-star games. The Super Bowl, the NFL's championship game, started as a "world championship" between the champions of the rival American Football League and NFL in the same way many college bowl games bring together the champions of different college conferences.
All-star bowl games
Following the Bowl Championship Series, a series of all-star bowl games round out the post-season schedule. These games showcase the best departing college players, just as the NFL showcases its all-stars in the annual post-season Pro Bowl. Such college all-star games include the East-West Shrine Game, the Senior Bowl, Texas vs The Nation, and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
Outside North America
European Football League
In the European Football League (EFL), a European Cup style tournament for European American Football teams affiliated to EFAF (European Federation of American Football), the final game of the EFL is called the Eurobowl, and has been held annually since 1986.
In Germany, the national championship game in American football is called the German Bowl and was first held in 1979. Apart from the German Bowl, a Junior Bowl has also been contested in Germany since 1982 and a Ladies Bowl was introduced in 1990. Other, related, national championship games in Germany include the German Flag Bowl (est. 2000), German Junior Flag Bowl (1999) and a German Indoor Flag Bowl (2000).
The winner of the Israeli Football League is determined every year in the Israel Bowl. The first to lift the Becker Trophy was the Jerusalem Lions in 2008.
The championship game of the Swiss Nationalliga A is called the Swiss Bowl. It was first held in 1986.
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Many fans have criticized the growing number of bowl games, calling many of them pointless. Reasons include many of the games having corporate sponsors as their name (e.g. the Meineke Bowl) or featuring teams which had a mediocre record (the 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, itself a corporate sponsor named bowl game, featured a 6-6 team against a 7-5 team). Also criticized is the loss of classic names like the Peach Bowl, which became the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
- List of college bowl games
- List of announcers of major college bowl games
- Bowl Coalition
- Bowl Alliance
- Bowl Championship Series
- List of NCAA football bowl records
- AP Poll - Bowl game results were not included in the AP championship until the 1968 season (1974 season for the UPI championship)
- "College Bowl Games". HickokSports.com. Retrieved September 20, 2005.
- Frank Deford, The earmarks of athletics: Sheer lunacy of bowl games defies all traditional logic, SportsIllustrated.com, November 29, 2006.
- UCLA Football - 2007 UCLA Football (Media Guide). UCLA Athletic Department (2007), page 165 (PDF copy available at www.uclabruins.com)
- 2002 NCAA Records book - Attendance Records page 494 (PDF)
- "Tuna Bowl II Goes From Folly to Foley". The Los Angeles Times. October 20, 1997.
- "'Manning Bowl', MNF twin bill highlight schedule peek - NFL - ESPN". Sports.espn.go.com. 2006-03-28. Retrieved 2013-12-17.
- Austin Murphy, Washington-Washington State playing for pride in Apple Cup, SI.com, November 20, 2008, Accessed January 9, 2009.
- Bowls GFL website, accessed: 26 January 2011
- Oriard, Michael (2009). Bowled Over: Big-Time College Football from the Sixties to the BCS Era. The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0-8078-3329-2.