Sports What to make of what should be a unique and uncertain college football bowl schedule

14:16  29 october  2020
14:16  29 october  2020 Source:   usatoday.com

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The College Football Playoff consists of a selection committee that ranks teams throughout the year. The top four teams compete in two semifinal games in late December or early January, with the With the advent of the College Football Playoff system, the six biggest bowl games got a little bit bigger.

This was going to be largest bowl season in history with 43 games. But like everything  affected by COVID-19, plans are being rewritten. How things play out with the three College Football Playoff games and the remaining 36 scheduled bowls remains uncertain.

What we do know is that the experience for teams, players, fans and communities is going to be vastly different. That’s understandable given health conditions have pushed the season to a later finish, limited or eliminated attendance at games and altered travel plans.

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Those  who build holiday plans around bowl season and those  who can’t imagine ringing in the new year without watching the biggest postseason games should still be able to enjoy the season’s conclusion — albeit with a different feel.

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An assessment of how things stand after talking with multiple officials involved in the bowl process. They requested anonymity because the situation is in flux.

Expect lots of losing records

A waiver by the NCAA eliminating the win requirement for bowl eligibility will make team selections more straightforward. The annual calculation about whether conferences have enough teams with six wins goes away.

Bowls are still expected to follow league affiliations and tie-ins, regardless of the records of the teams.

With three of the Power Five leagues — the Big Ten, Pac-12 and  Southeastern Conference — playing a league-only schedule and the other two having only one non-conference game, math tells you it’s going to be impossible to avoid having a swath of teams with losing records.

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In the case of the Big Ten, it will fill all of its seven spots outside the New Year’s Six games. That could open the door for selection of the 10th-best team among its 14 members. The same will be true for the other conferences that have spots for more than half their membership.

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The SEC has 14 teams and nine possible bowl affiliations outside the College Football Playoff and Sugar Bowl, but only five schools have winning records through five weekends. Six have losing records.

The 10-team Big 12 has the potential for six bowl spots outside its guaranteed berth in the Sugar Bowl. The league has just six teams with winning records.

Eight of the 15  Atlantic Coast Conference schools have winning records, but the conference has 10 possible bowl spots.

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The NCAA waiver does create fewer opportunities for Group of Five teams. Five served as replacements for Power Five schools unable to fulfill their allotments last season. Three did in 2018.

It’s not that abnormal

The records might be unsightly come December. However, this shouldn’t be a surprise. The concept of teams playing bowl games with losing conference records is nothing new. Programs often get to six or seven wins on the strength of a padded non-conference schedule leading into an average or worse league campaign.

Twenty-one bowl teams in the past two years had losing league records, including 17 from the Power Five. Several had just three wins among those eight or nine games. However, critics of including teams with losing league records should note those 17 schools went 12-5 in the bowls.

The losers in this one-off arrangement are the Group of Five leagues that typically filled the spots left empty when bigger conferences can't meet the win requirement.

When will the games take place?

The first Saturday of December has been the final day of the regular season during the playoff era. The pairings for the semifinals and the rest of the bowl season are unveiled the following day. That would be Dec. 6 this year.

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However, the weekend of the conference championship games has been pushed to the third Saturday of the month. That is the weekend of the traditional bowl schedule start date.

That creates uncertainty about when games are played. It also will create a much shorter window between announcement of the pairings and kickoff that is usually at least two weeks and often longer.

It’s anticipated most of the matchups for Power Five schools will be announced Dec. 20 because bowls affiliated with those respective conferences won’t know the selection pool until the New Year’s Six games are announced. It’s also worth noting every team in the Big Ten and Pac-12 is scheduled to play Dec. 19, so their pecking order won’t be established before then.

None of the Power Five games could be played before Christmas given the short turnaround. Dec. 26 is a Saturday, but bowls are rarely played on Sunday or Monday night to avoid conflict with the NFL. That leaves four other days to squeeze in everything before Jan. 1.

One way to alleviate the issue would be to have  several games involving Group of Five teams lined up in early December before the end of the season. Those could potentially be played between Dec. 19 and before Christmas.

There were eight games before Dec. 25 last season and 12 games in the period in 2018. Without using that window, there’s potentially up to 30 games needed to be played between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

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Another option would be playing games after New Year’s. That isn’t ideal given people are usually back to work after the holidays and less likely to travel or watch games during the week. Five games were played after Jan. 1 last year. None were played in 2018.

How many games?

The debut of the Fenway, Los Angeles and Myrtle Beach bowls would have added three more games and six more teams to the mix, giving this year’s postseason 43 games with 84 total teams. History will have to wait a year.

The Redbox Bowl, held in the San Francisco area, canceled its game in August when the season was uncertain. Earlier this month, the Hawaii Bowl and Bahamas Bowl were called off due to travel restrictions related to COVID-19.

The Holiday Bowl — a mainstay since 1978 — announced its game was canceled last week, leading to uncertainty about others pulling the plug. The three new games would be the likeliest candidates. Others could also follow. Longtime games with deeper community ties would be the most committed to playing.

Local health conditions or coronavirus concerns that arise for the teams selected could change that calculation closer to game day.

A different bowl experience

Economic and health constraints will require changes to the traditional bowl experience. The host cities face a significant impact, especially smaller towns, like El Paso, Shreveport, Tucson and Mobile that benefit  from having a week full of activities.

Teams typically arrive well before the game with an oversize bowl party including players, administrators, staff and bands with relatives and fans close behind. They stay in local hotels and visit restaurants and tourist locations. Teams make visits to hospitals or charities after practicing at a local school or stadium.

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A study from San Diego State and George Washington found that bowls in 2014 and 2015 contributed an average of $40.3 million to cities with New Year's Six games bringing in more $90 million. According to the Fiesta Bowl, the game has contributed nearly $3 billion during the past 13 years through its organization and events.

Much of that will go away. Teams are expected to treat the game like a usual road game. Many of the pregame events will be virtual. Already being hurt financially by the pandemic, schools are expected to have slimmed-down attendance.

In a typical year, athletic departments would be on the hook to fulfill an allotment of several thousand tickets. However, there’s no guarantee fans will be allowed at games. And if they are, it won’t be anything resembling a full stadium. The allotment likely would then be reduced to correlate roughly with the percentage of attendance.

For the players — many of whom are playing their last competitive football game — there will still be an opportunity to celebrate their seasons, albeit in a different way.

The truncated experience and uncertainty surrounding whether bowls will be played could lead to an increase of upperclassmen opting out and starting preparation for the NFL draft.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What to make of what should be a unique and uncertain college football bowl schedule

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