Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette have been in the news for choosing to sit out bowl games. Any outcry has mostly come from traditionalists tied to college football (I don’t see many tied to the NFL finding fault, so it seems opinion depends on how much you want to legitimize the entire bowl process).
However, tradition when it comes to bowl games is a tricky thing. Here’s a graphic showing the number of bowl games each year, for the last fifty years (source: sports-reference.com/cfb)
The year that Leonard Fournette was born (1995), there were 17 bowl games. There were 18 bowl games the year that Christian McCaffrey was born (1996).
Is the current bowl system in trouble when players stop participating, if they are moving on to the NFL? Well, it’s hard to say, but we are still very much in the infancy of many of these “meaningless” bowl games, because most of them are not old enough to drink.
For traditionalist coaches, most of whom are over 40, the number of bowl games in existence is even smaller. If you were born in 1976, there are only 11 current bowls (including the Tangerine becoming the Citrus) that were in existence throughout your lifetimes.
These games will remain in existence as long as enough people watch to justify ESPN promoting Bowl Week(s). Many of the recent incarnations don’t draw may fans in attendance, and the number of viewers is paltry compared to matchups on most college football Saturdays in the key slots. The “new” bowls that weren’t in existence with Fournette was born averaged 2.45 million viewers last year; the ten earliest ones–those adding to the glut of games even compared to a decade ago–averaged 1.68 million and only two of them topped two million viewers last year.
But, when you consider that North Carolina-Kentucky basketball drew a 2.4 rating, and that was noteworthy, well, you see why ESPN wants the games.
But forget about all the complaints about team. College football sold more inventory, and players today are working more than ever compared to their historical comrades. It’s just business.