About College Football Bowl Games

About College Football Bowl Games


The major college football regular season officially concludes this Saturday when Army takes on Navy in Philadelphia. This annual event comes just one week before the bowl season begins, 35 games that span from Dec. 15 and concludes on Jan. 7, 2013, with Notre Dame and Alabama squaring off for the national championship. Most games will be ignored with only the most avid fans tuning in, such is the saturation of meaningless bowl games out there. Our nation’s bowl history is an interesting one with tradition and corporate sponsorship keeping this practice alive.


The first bowl game was played in 1902, the predecessor to the current Rose Bowl. Sponsored by the Tournament of Roses Association, the 1902 Tournament East-West football game pitted the University of Michigan against Stanford University. It wasn’t until 1916 that the game was played annually and, following the completion of the Rose Bowl Stadium in Los Angeles in 1923, the Rose Bowl name was formed. The “bowl” represents the shape of the stadium and has been adopted by all other games following.

Earlier Games

The Rose Bowl was the sole bowl game until the 1930s when new games were started. In 1935 the Orange Bowl, Sun Bowl and the Sugar Bowl joined in. Two years later it was the Cotton Bowl. Throughout much of the 1950s and 1960s, there were as many as eight games played with three more added by 1970.

Beginning in the 1980s, the bowl season expanded to 15 games and then 19 by 1990 before reaching 25 games in 2000. Today, there are 35 games with as many as 124 college football teams vying for the 70 annual spots.

Bowl Eligibility

To play in a college bowl game, teams must be academically eligible and have won at least six games in a season. Thus, there are numerous 6-6 teams that qualify for a bowl, although not all are eligible to play.

Most bowl games are tied in with the various college conferences, with the No. 4 team from the SEC playing the No. 3 team from the ACC or the No. 2 team from the Big East playing the No. 3 team from the Big 12. These are not accurate examples, but demonstrate the influence the conferences have in matching up teams for these games.

Oh, lest you think that having a losing record disqualifies you from bowl activity, think again. This year, Georgia Tech needed a waiver to get to a bowl, finishing 6-7 after losing in the ACC championship game. Last year, UCLA received a similar waiver and ended up losing its bowl game to finish the year at 6-8, the first bowl team to record eight losses in a season.

The Future

The bowl format is likely to change when major college football welcomes a four-team playoff into the mix beginning with the 2014 season. The BCS game will still be played with two more games played leading up to the big game. At this point, it appears that most bowl games will survive, overlapping a saturated post-season bowl and intoxicating us with more games than we can possibly watch.


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