Mac Engel

January 3, 2014

Playoffs mean end of Cotton Bowl as we know it

Next year’s playoff system will make end-of-year bowl games irrelevant.

The Cotton Bowl that is known for Joe Montana’s comeback, James Street’s fourth-down pass and Miami’s 202 yards in penalties is dying.

Thank you, God.

Next year, AT&T Stadium will be the site of a real college football title game as a result of a four-team playoff.

Thank you, Jerry Jones and Arlington taxpayers.

The type of Cotton Bowl played on Friday night between Oklahoma State and Missouri will continue to exist, but its relevance will decrease when the four-team playoff begins next season. Can’t happen soon enough.

“[The bowls] will survive, but it will look different,” Cotton Bowl board member Tommy Bain said Friday night during the game. “We just don’t know how it will look.”

Go with “not great.” But when AT&T Stadium hosts the title game or semifinal game, fantastic. When the Cotton Bowl is another exhibition game for the low cost of $145 per ticket, you couldn’t pay me enough.

Next year, there will be a Cotton Bowl and national championship game at AT&T Stadium. The game will host a semifinal in 2016.

If you didn’t care about the majority of these bowls before, just wait until there are three games — two semifinals and a championship — that have defined meaning and weight.

Once the college presidents and conference commissioners taste playoff cash, forget it. It won’t be long before we’re at an eight-team playoff. But it might be a bit longer before the power brokers cut ties with their buddies and cronies who run the bowls.

“They have put more emphasis on those [playoff] games; those games will be a huge deal and some of the biggest sporting events in the country,” Bain said.

Could not agree more.

“There is concern about what will happen to the rest of them,” Bain said.

Could not agree more.

My college football fantasy is that all of these exhibition bowl games are pushed to the start of the regular season, when the sport is dying for quality matchups because coaches are scared to death of losing a nonconference game.

For decades, the Final Four included a third-place game played before the championship. The last one was played in 1981.

That’s what the bowl season essentially is: a third-place game. Most bowls aren’t even as compelling as that.

Like the third-place game, the bowl model has become antiquated, expensive, overpriced and increasingly irrelevant.

We live in a sports culture that craves the postseason. There are so many regular season games in everything that unless the game has weight and value, caring is a tough sell.

At least in the short term, all of these bowls — there are approximately 345 of them — will continue to live. Only because ESPN needs live, unscripted programming, it will pay for games that are sparsely attended and only moderately followed — at least, it will as long as its semi-profitable. If not, dogs playing poker will suffice.

“Think when the BCS was created [1992], there were 16 or 17 bowls,” Bain said. “Now there are 35 or 36. I think what you could see is it may eventually come back to that.”

As we have seen with the reluctant addition of a four-team playoff, “eventually” can take forever in college football.

The market, not academics, will be the determining factor for additional playoff teams as well as the survival rate of the bowl games named after websites, pizza chains and fast food chicken.

The Cotton Bowl will remain special, primarily when it carries the weight of a postseason elimination. There is too much else going on to care about an exhibition at the end of the season.

Bring on the playoff.

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