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Free-For-All Friday: Bowl Games and Fixing the Big Ten Schedule

Are bowl games meaningless? How do we fix the disparity in conference divisions? We discuss.

Iowa v Nebraska
Bowl season is fast approaching. What do the bowls even mean?
Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

What a great day it is in the Hawkeye state. The Iowa hoops team is fresh off another win over Iowa State (that makes three of the last four), the football team has three fresh All-Americans and it’s Friday afternoon.

The weekend is nearly upon us, which means it’s time to stop working and start talking nonsense. It’s Friday, and it’s a free-for-all.

JP: Jerry, Jerry, Jerry. We’ve got THINGS to talk about this week my man. The Hawks are going, going back, back to Cali, Cali. The hoops team looks #goodatbasketball again. How you feeling my man?

Jerry: I’ve got thoughtsssssssss! I’ve always got thoughts.

But first, I have a question for you, the new FFF Captain Optimism: Do you support using Bowl Game dates (as in, The Camping World Bowl is better than the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl because it’s played closer to New Years) as a debate topic when fighting with your rivals? Does this game matter to you REALLLLLLY or are you just happy that you have an option to vacation while watching your favorite football team, while the players get some much deserved free swag and the young guns get more practices?

Do bowl games still matter to you? Does USC matter to you? Does beating them matter more than the Minnesota game or the Penn State game or the Michigan game or the, gasp, Iowa State game? Is a San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl birth the most positive thing or just a meh thing?

JP: Oh buddy, why do I feel like there is a beef somewhere fueling these questions?

OK so, does the date of the bowl determine the level of the bowl?

No. 100% no. And the proof is two-fold. When is the first College Football Playoff game? That’s right, it’s BEFORE New Year’s Day. It’s before most bowls. Is someone going to suggest the Peach or Fiesta Bowl means less than literally any other bowl game?

It’s a dumb argument. The flip side shows just as much proof. You going to tell me the LendingTree Bowl, played on January 6th, is the best bowl you could get? What about the Armed Forces Bowl on January 4th? No. You aren’t.

Perhaps the bigger proof, though, is how the bowls are actually selected. There is a bowl pecking order. The Holiday, for the Big Ten, is the third-best bowl a team could get if they are not selected for either the CFP or a New Year’s Six bowl, behind the Citrus and Outback. For the Big 12, the Camping World Bowl is the second-best bowl a team can get if not selected for the CFP or New Year’s Six. Now, I know what you’re thinking: 2nd is better than 3rd. That would be true if the conferences were equal. If you think the conferences are equal, stop what you are doing, open a new web browser and google “college football”. Watch some videos. Educate yourself. Take off your ISU class of ’93 sunglasses and step into reality.

Now, for your question about the true meaning of the game and how it relates to the rest of the season, I would say meh. It’s important from the standpoint that Iowa has another chance to add a win against a ranked opponent away from Kinnick. They, with a win, have a chance to jump into the top-15 nationally. They have an opportunity to get a bunch of young guys more practice reps and tinker with some things under live fire before we turn the page to next season.

It 100% does NOT mean more than a matchup with Michigan, Penn State, Minnesota or even –gasp– Iowa State. It’s not a regular season game. It doesn’t impact the team’s chances of winning a conference title. It doesn’t impact their ability to make the playoff. It’s not against a rival. It means less. Period. But it’s another feather in your cap when it comes to the recruiting trail and you know I’m here for that. And it never hurts to beat a name-brand school, especially one with a long track record of cheating with the best of them.

I get the sense you agree with me here. Am I wrong? And what are your initial thoughts on this matchup?

Jerry: I 100% agree with you but I feel like a lot of SpoCo’s listeners and my friends on Twitter don’t understand what I’m getting at. Look, I LOVE BOWL SZN! Extra football is always and will always be a good thing. But you wont hear me blowing smoke up anyone’s arses by saying this bowl is better than that bowl. Like the great Ricky Bobby once said, “if you ain’t first, you’re last” and that’s how I feel about this time of the year. Unless you play in the playoff, this final game is nothing more than a money grab exhibition that means literally nothing in terms of wins and losses. Look no further than what these contests are slowly turning into for seniors and juniors that are thinking about jumping into the NFL Draft. It’s a practice game that doesn’t really help or hurt them in the long run. It’s a practice game that sometimes allows coaches to hit a bonus. It’s a money grab from companies, stadiums and warm locales that desperately need the cold weather states dolla dolla bills.

Now don’t go confusing the context here. This obviously means something to the players and coaches in terms of extra practices, opportunity, growth, free swag, etc. But the game in and of itself, is kinda pointless at this point. I’d almost rather them start playing a Big Ten Round Robin with the remaining teams that don’t make the playoff like you do in Fantasy Football. If Iowa wins the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl are you going to buy a full price Champions t-shirt? If Iowa was playing in the Detroit County Credit Union Holiday Bowl would you consider going up to watch it?

JP: I apologize now for derailing this conversation, but such is life in a free-for-all. Something stood out to me in your response and candidly it’s the only thing I can think about. You mentioned wishing they just did a round robin in the Big Ten instead of bowls. I’m not going to get into why I’d rather do the bowls (warm weather is near the top of the list – but maybe you just play Rutgers in Florida?). What I want to get into is all the talk about the divisions not working for the Big Ten.

I strongly disagree. That is largely based upon my memory of how terrible it was when we had Legends and Leaders (ugh) but also a simple understanding of math. Unless this conference is going to go to a 13-game conference schedule, teams aren’t playing all the other conference opponents each year. So if you get rid of the divisions entirely, I think you end up in scheduling hell. We have a scenario where Iowa isn’t playing Wisconsin every year again or Minnesota gets to tout how great they are with wins over Rutgers, Maryland, Illinois, Nebraska, Purdue, Indiana, Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa. Scratch that, they’ll never beat Iowa. But you get the point.

My solution to this problem is much more simple. Instead of removing the divisions or randomly placing teams in strangely named divisions, just shift the line. Instead of a truly vertical East/West breakdown, make it along a northwest/southwest line. You move Michigan and Michigan State to the West and put Purdue and Illinois in the East. The only hang up here is what to do with big time rivalries (namely Michigan-Ohio State). I think you give Michigan the option to keep it (do they want to at this point?), but you don’t need to give every team a protected crossover game. I can’t think of a game that HAS to be played outside of the game.

Granted the Big Ten Championship game will still be Wisconsin vs. Ohio State every year, but people can stop whining about the disparity beyond the top two (I think the West would be the stronger division in this scenario). Ok, tell me I’m nuts.

Jerry: I don’t disagree with how you just laid out the Big Ten. It’s what will more than likely happen and more than likely sooner rather than later. But JP, I wanted a Round Robin AFTER the Big Ten Championship for the teams that didn’t go instead of playing in a meaningless bowl. Think about the opportunity and fun we could all have beating Minnesota again!

Maybe this is something we try to hash all at once on another Friday, but the positives of hosting and playing a few more Big Ten games makes me feel more excited for the end of the season unlike making the Holiday Bowl go play a USC team that was used as coaching leverage. But maybe I’m just crazy.

Also, Iowa is beating Wisconsin the next five year. Book it now.

JP: I get what you were saying, I just don’t think it’s plausible. I don’t think we can have college football teams playing substantially more games. It’s one of the big arguments against expanding the College Football Playoffs.

Now, do I think that’s something that could work in some fashion several years down the road? Yes. There are plenty of reports out there about federal legislation following California’s new law that would not only allow, but mandate compensation for college athletes.

If that door opens, it’s pretty easy to see a path to college schedules approaching 15 games with fewer requirements on attending classes, taking finals, etc. It’s also easy to see schedules stay similar to what we have today, but an expansion of the playoff with additional postseason tournaments introduced, similar to the NIT in college hoops.

If we’re now paying the kids, why not have a college football invitational with the top 8 teams not in the College Football Playoff? Why not make a bunch of TV money and distribute a portion of it to the kids playing in the games? There are endless possibilities. The NCAA will surely be slow in changing and get it wrong 5 times before they get it right, but the potential for some really cool outcomes is there.

What say you? How can we remedy the inherent issues with bowls, conference divisions and the CFP? We’ll discuss more next week!