Ticket City, New Era Pinstripe? What Happened To The Real Bowl Games?

It's possible that I'm getting old and becoming one of those grumpy old dudes who think that everything was better during his day. That caveat out of the way, I've got to ask: am I the only one around here who remembers when the New Year's Day bowl games were really special affairs and involved the best teams in college football?

Let's look at the schedule. Between today and the end of New Year's Day, there will be 17, that's right, 17 bowl games. And even after this flurry of football, there will still be seven games remaining, including the so-called BCS Title Game. There will be six games alone played on January 1st.

When I was a kid, the New Year's bowl games were special. The Cotton Bowl kicked things off, featuring the best of the Southwest Conference versus the best team the folks in Dallas could get, usually a school like Notre Dame or one of the top teams from the Big Eight or SEC. That would be followed by the Rose Bowl, featuring the best of the Pac 10 versus the best of the Big 10, and it would all end with the Orange Bowl which brought you the best of the Big Eight versus a top notch school from another conference, or a major independent team like Notre Dame or Penn State -- yes, Penn State used to be an independent for you youngsters.

These were games you wanted to see. Not like now where New Year's Day brings us 7-5 Northwestern versus 7-5 Texas Tech in the Ticket City Bowl -- yeah you've never before heard of this game being played in the Cotton Bowl because this is the first time the game's ever been played -- or 7-5 Penn State versus 7-5 Florida in the Outback Bowl or 7-5 Michigan versus 8-4 Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. Hell, back in the day, schools with four losses were lucky to get a bowl invite, now they're playing on New Year's Day.

Let's not even get started with some of the travesties being played tonight, tomorrow, or Friday. Suffice to say that these bowl games are full of 6-6 squads facing off against 7-5 squads in games that only bettors and family members care about. Like 6-6 Clemson versus 7-5 USF, or 7-6 SMU battling 6-6 Army or 7-5 Miami facing off against a 7-5 Notre Dame squad in a game that was last relevant about two decades ago.

This is not a screed about the need for a playoff, though it's obvious to anyone who has looked at the bowl games being played that the argument about the sanctity of the regular season and the tradition of the bowls means absolutely nada. If the regular season actually meant something, then 6-6 Illinois and 7-5 Baylor would not being playing a football game in Reliant Stadium tonight. Instead, those squads would be sitting at home and various college presidents and athletic directors would be searching for new head coaches.

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Like the Metroplex really needs another bowl game
Let's consider this as well. We all need viewing options this weekend. We've all got our sports fix that needs to be filled. But let's not reward these bastards for ruining traditions like they have. Just because ESPN is televising a bowl game doesn't mean that it has to be watched, especially when that game is dreck like tomorrow's New Era Pinstripe Bowl -- another new one, this one to be played in Yankee Stadium - featuring 7-5 Kansas State against 7-5 Syracuse.

So I present to you some other, alternative options that I hope you will consider, even if some of the options mean that you're going to have to get off of the couch and actually drive to the arena.

There are a couple of college basketball games in town this week. Rice hosts LSU tonight at 7 p.m. at Tudor Fieldhouse, and they follow that up by hosting TCU at 3 p.m. on Sunday. The Cougars host the Rogers State Hillcats tomorrow at 6 p.m. And on Friday, the Rockets are hosting a New Year's Eve match-up with the Toronto Raptors.

As to New Year's Day, instead of the Ticket City or Outback Bowls, how about flipping the channel to NBC and watching the NHL's Winter Classic, this year featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals playing an outdoor hockey game at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, which will start at noon. And if you like hockey and like attractive women in bikinis, then consider making the trip to Toyota Center where the Houston Aeros will be hosting the San Antonio Rampage at 7:35 p.m. -- during the intermissions, the team will be holding it's annual Ms. Aero Bikini Contest.

I know I'm probably looking back at the old days through rose-colored glasses. Yet that said, there's no way, even a decade or so back, that the New Year's bowl game offerings could have been this piss-poor. And while I know our standards as fans are no longer what they once were, that's still no excuse for rewarding these offerings, especially when there are better options easily available for the taking.

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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal