Perhaps you've said it yourself. If not, you have at least heard it. "It" is, of course, one of the most commonly parroted lines with respect to the college football postseason: "Bowls are meaningless."
A search of Twitter will always yield spirited results, like this one:
All bowls are meaningless but one anyway.
— Justin Barney (@JustinBarneyTU) December 3, 2012
Casual fans, writers, television analysts, diehard college football fans and others trumpet this novel concept that virtually all the bowls are meaningless.
Call me a softy if you like, but I cannot co-sign that mentality. I'm more than just a "bowl guy" in all of this. I think bowls are great for the game, but more importantly, they are great for the players and the fanbases that get to participate in them.
Yes, the games are exhibitions. Yes, all but one do not count for the title. Yes, they help grab cash for the schools. Yes, there are some trips that teams would prefer not to take.
However, bowls are so much more than just those things. Spare me the "everybody gets a trophy" rhetoric and the idea that we're rewarding mediocrity. For the bulk of college football teams, winning seven, eight or nine games is an achievement in and of itself.
Every team is not going to play for a national title. Heck, most teams do not have the ability to even make it to a BCS bowl game. That does not mean that they do not achieve during the season. Sorry that Utah State, Louisiana-Monroe, East Carolina or Duke did not reach your arbitrary standard of "deserving" of a bowl bid. They busted their behinds, they put wins up on the board and they are certainly deserving of the reward at the end of the season.
You see, ultimately, these bowl games are not for "you," Mr. Random Fan, who wants to complain about how terrible it is. These "meaningless bowl games" are for the teams and their fans. You don't like them? Don't watch—and don't sit around and moan because two teams you didn't care about in the regular season are playing in a game that you don't care about now.
Not caring about things is OK; projecting one's self-serving selfishness and entitlement onto a group of kids who have been grinding year-round is not. College football is hard, and most random fans view the players, especially the ones on teams they don't care about, as faceless entertainment pieces. The bowls, even as money grabs, reward those faceless entertainment pieces for the work they have put in.
I'm on board with that.
Goodness, these are 17- to 23-year-old kids and young men. They spend the bulk of their waking moments in meetings, lifting, running, hitting and the like so that their school can make a little coin, their coach can get a fatter paycheck and you can sit on your couch and drink beer all day Saturday. Get over yourself and enjoy the kids—you know, the people who fuel the system with their bodies.
In 2004, at the University of North Carolina, we were 6-5, but good grief if getting the Continental Tire Bowl bid did not feel like we were 11-0.
We knew we weren't playing for a title. We knew going to Charlotte was not on the same level as the Orange Bowl or the national title game. However, those things did not stop us from being proud as all get out of what we were able to achieve.
UNC had not been to a bowl game since 2001 at that point. It would not go to another bowl game until 2008. Point being, you take them how you get them, and they are far from meaningless to those young men out there working to get to the postseason.
This holiday season, enjoy the bowl games. Think about the players as more than just cogs in your entertainment system. The swag, the per diem, the trip and activities are really great experiences for the guys, and if you view things through that scope, you'll find you can appreciate them more.
I know I do.
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