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The History of Bowl Game Expansion

The Granddaddy of the all: The Rose Bowl

College football

In the Beginning

College football’s bowl season is upon us. A season in which what were once the only bowl games available now enjoys 35 other sibling games. The Granddaddy of them all (the Rose Bowl) officially began in 1902. It became an annual game by 1916 and joined the Sugar Bowl, Sun Bowl,  Orange Bowl, and the Cotton Bowl in 1937 to give us the five major bowls.

Let Expansion Begin

Imagine if you will that with five major bowl games and nine more added to the list, the NCAA thought that that was just too many. After you get up off the floor from rolling in laughter what if I told you there were another 50 some odd games that called themselves bowl games as well. Well, there were including the Junior Rose Bowl that pitted junior college teams against each other in Pasadena. The names for these short-lived bowls weren’t eye-catching either. There was the Grape, the Salad, the Corn, the Iodine, and the Cigar bowl just to name a few.

Maine head coach Ted Weiman led a crusade against this explosion of games because as he saw it they were simply building profits for commercial entities. Sound familiar?

Eventually, all of these unsanctioned games would go by the wayside by the late 1950s.

Now for the Real Expansion

The real bowl expansion began in the 1970s. Until then the system had stayed fairly consistent with between seven and nine games through the mid-’60s This largely was due to the NCAA preventing expansion.

The expansion added games long since changed and or forgotten. Long live the Pasadena Bowl, the Liberty Bowl, the BlueBonnett Bowl, the Tangerine Bowl, and the Peach Bowl.  They joined not only the beginning five but also the Fiesta Bowl, the Gator Bowl, and the Citrus Bowl. There also came the Holiday Bowl and the Independence Bowl.

Two more were added in the ’80s with the Outback Bowl (1986) and the Cheez-It Bowl (1989) first played at Chase Field in Phoenix.

Bowl expansion gained six more in the 1990’s beginning with the Camping World Bowl in Orlando, Florida. It now calls Shreveport, Louisiana home.

Nineteen more have been added since the turn of the century.

Bowl Games are Big Money

The reason there is such a need for so many bowls is really quite simple… Money talks and even though the NCAA would tell you there are too many games, they are not going to let that stop them, the various football conferences, corporate sponsorships, the television networks, schools or the bowl executives who bring in a bankroll hand over fist. Each talk out of both sides of their mouth.

ESPN owns about a dozen games give or take a couple. You can only imagine what they pull in.

Conferences and teams will not drain the money pit even though the numbers are huge. The Big 10 hauls in $89.5 million without a team in the college playoff. The ACC cashed in on $87.5 in 2017-2018 bowl season. The SEC comes in third with a paltry $70 million despite having two teams in the playoffs. And the list goes on.

Get Set for more Expansion

In just two years when the moratorium ends on bowl expansion, you will see even more. Why, you ask? Simpy put there is money to be made in bowl expansion. ESPN has the broadcast rights to 38 bowl games presently. Outlets like FoxSports , CBS Sports and NBC Sports will all want their piece of the pie. Are there too many bowl games and for the wrong reasons? Yep.  Is it going to change anytime soon? Nope.

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