College Football Bowl Games: Your Father's Bowl Games, 25 Years Ago (1986-87).

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College Football Bowl Games: Your Father's Bowl Games, 25 Years Ago (1986-87).

A recent sports column noted that today's college students have little, if any, recollection of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, formerly I-A) before the creation of the Bowl Championship Series in 1998.

The majority of today's college undergraduates had yet to be born when the 1987 Fiesta Bowl arranged what was considered the de facto "National Championship Game" between consensus (AP and UPI) No. 1 Miami and No. 2 Penn State.

This game represented much more than a rare 1 vs. 2 bowl match-up. Its ripple effects continue to be felt a generation later.

Despite moving from late December to January 1st in the 1981-82 season, the Fiesta Bowl was considered a "second-tier" bowl before 1987.

By taking advantage of the rare opportunity presented by two independents (neither Penn State nor Miami were bound by conference bowl affiliations) being the only two undefeated teams in FBS (I-A), the Fiesta Bowl immediately jumped to "first-tier" status along with the other January 1st bowl games: the Rose, Orange, Sugar, and Cotton.

By moving the '87 Fiesta Bowl from January 1st to January 2nd, this game changed from NBC's lead-in to the Rose Bowl Game to a sui generis "must-see-TV" prime-time NBC event. The separation of a "national championship" game from the line-up of traditional Jan. 1st bowls was adopted by the BCS.

The move alienated the older bowls from their traditions and reinforced the importance of television contracts and corporate sponsorship to the viability of bowl games.

Within a decade, the influence of ESPN in particular would be felt, as the number of bowls—more or less stable at 16-18 from 1978-1996)—began to proliferate.

The increased importance of television contracts in generating revenue for FBS programs, which was a direct consequence of the Supreme Court decision made only two years earlier, also resulted in the virtual disappearance of independents from the college football landscape.

There were 22 independent football programs competing in the 1986-87 FBS/I-A season. Here is the list by season record, in descending order: Penn State, Miami-FL, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Tulsa, Florida State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Temple, Southern Miss, Army, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Tulane, West Virginia, South Carolina, Navy, Louisville, East Carolina, Northern Illinois.

Ten years later, in the 1996-97 season, the number was halved to the six schools underlined above, plus these five: Louisiana Tech, Lousiana-Monroe, UAB, Central Florida, Arkansas State. And, of course, by 2006-07 the number was down to four: Army, Navy, Notre Dame, and Temple.

As an example of what "Your Father's Bowl Games" looked like, here is a slideshow tour through the bowl season of 25 years ago in chronological order.

[Stay tuned for upcoming slideshows on "Your Grandfather's Bowl Games" (1961-62 season) and "Your Great-Grandfather's Bowl Games" (1936-37 season).]

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