Sunday night marks the end of an era.
The moment ESPN unveils college football’s bowl pairings — including Iowa’s destination and opponent — the Bowl Championship Series will cease to exist.
Thousands of Hawkeye followers will tune in at about 8 p.m. to see whether they’re heading to Tampa, Tempe or some other toasty locale.
What they may not realize, though, is that the future could be a lot less cozy.
A four-team playoff, which makes its debut next season, will forever alter the sport.
“The bowl system is absolutely imperative for teams to get extra practice, for teams to recruit in certain areas where those bowls are,” said Joel Klatt, an analyst for Fox Sports 1. “And if they start to dilute and go away, then all you’re going to do is start feeding the teams that make those playoffs.
“You’ll have a real separation of classes.”
To be clear, Klatt isn’t expecting a sudden shift in the postseason landscape.
And bowl organizers don’t seem threatened by the changes.
“That’s not going to affect us too much,” said Mike Schulze, a spokesman for the Outback Bowl. “We’ve renewed our deals with the Big Ten, the SEC and Outback Steakhouse, even our TV network.
“It’s going to be mostly business as usual for us.”
But what happens when people start clamoring for an eight- or 16-team playoff?
“That is my fear,” Klatt said. “Those who are in power will never hold firm and will constantly adjust the number of teams upward, based on sentiment.”
For nearly two decades, ever since the “Bowl Alliance” was established in the mid-1990s (a forerunner to the BCS), the drama of college football generally peaked in the first week of December.
And that’s pretty much how things played out this week.
Once the Hawkeyes wrapped up their regular season schedule with a 38-17 win at Nebraska, the black-and-gold faithful began scanning the bowl projections.
As of Saturday afternoon, the Outback Bowl (Jan. 1 in Tampa, Fla.) seemed like a good bet. But nothing is certain until the BCS bids are set Sunday evening.
“The biggest thing right now is, we’ve got to determine who is actually available to us,” Schulze said. “Without knowing that, it’s difficult to get married to any particular situation.”
He did, however, give Iowa a glowing review: “Finished strong, which was great for them,” Schulze said. “Seems like a real good season. They’re certainly on our list.”
The 8-4 Hawkeyes couldn’t ask for much more.
It’s the general public that demanded a playoff.
“We got so sick for the last however many years,” Klatt explained. “We heard this gripe from No. 3 (in the BCS standings), so they finally said ‘OK, we’re going to go to a playoff.’
“Well, how long is it going to take for them to see the fifth team in the country and all that griping? Then, it’s the ninth team. Then, it’s the 17th team in the country.”
At what point do a majority of bowls become an afterthought, sort of like college basketball’s National Invitation Tournament?
“You’ll start to lose something that is very, very important,” Klatt said. “If anybody out there enjoys the parity, enjoys the aspect that your team can all of a sudden rise up and win 10 games, then you want to maintain the bowl system.”
In other words, perceptions of success could narrow.
Much like basketball’s NCAA Tournament, teams will be either in or out. Nine-win seasons will be less memorable, and 6-6 will bring even less satisfaction.
Only a relative few will celebrate the excitement of Selection Sunday.
“If you’re a mid-tier or below, major-conference program, the odds are you might — if you’re very lucky and the stars align — go to the playoffs once every 15 years,” Klatt warned.
That’s bad news for those who make bowl travel part of their annual budget.
For those who prefer to watch from their man-caves, a playoff probably seems long overdue.
“I’m more positive about it, because I’m glad to see it’s happening,” said Chris Simms, another Fox Sports 1 analyst. “Four teams is a good start, but by no means do I think it’s enough.”
So, while Iowa waits a few more hours for its bowl invitation, take some time to soak up the suspense.
Things will never be quite the same.
Andrew Logue covers Hawkeye football and sports media for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMLogue.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football