Fri December 31, 2010

College Bowl Games: 35 Games In 24 Days

College football bowl season is upon us. Actually, it's all around us. Schools will play 35 games in 24 days, culminating in the national championship game on Jan. 10.

As for why there are so many bowls, NPR's Mike Pesca tells Morning Edition co-host Renee Montagne, "They come from the need to generate profits."

"Most of the bowls -- I think, all of the bowls, actually -- are incorporated as nonprofit corporations," he says. "But the people who run the bowls make quite a bit of money, and generate quite a bit of income."

Most of that money comes from the viewing public. But often, the schools whose teams are playing are left with a sizable tab to pay, as well.

"For instance, the University of Connecticut was invited to a bowl this year because they won the Big East," Pesca says. "And they were tasked with buying up 17,500 tickets. Well, they can only sell about 4,000. So they're on the hook for what could be millions of dollars.

"They charge the band to sit in the stadium and perform at halftime; they sometimes charge the mascot."

Some sports fans see the bowls as a string of games that culminates in a big football event -- similar to how Mardi Gras follows a string of smaller parties.

But not Pesca. "I find it's a little like the political season, after the nomination's been sewn up, when we know who the candidate's going to be, and you have to play out the string of primaries. You know, let's get to the main contest already."

Still, there have been some exciting games so far in this bowl season -- some of them featuring teams whose games don't normally get such wide exposure.

"You know, the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl was actually a pretty great game," Pesca says. In that game, Louisville came back to edge Southern Mississippi, 31-28.

And in another restaurant-backed game, this year's Little Caesars Pizza Bowl came down to the wire, as Florida International kicked a field goal on the game's final play to beat Toledo, 34-32.

The least entertaining -- and most unusual -- moments came in other games.

In a letdown for Boise State fans, the Broncos just missed having an undefeated season, and possibly playing a national powerhouse. Instead, they played Utah -- and won, 26-3.

"It was a very boring bowl game," Pesca says.

And in the Independence Bowl, Air Force's live falcon mascot upstaged an unexciting matchup with Georgia Tech -- two running teams that couldn't run on each other.

The Air Force falcon normally flies into the stadium at the start of games. "But something went awry," Pesca says, "and he flew out of the stadium, and just wound up wandering the streets and ledges of Shreveport."

The falcon was found later; school officials explained that the bird wasn't hungry enough to fly to the bait down on the football field.

"Boring bowl game, lost falcon -- adds up to an unexciting event," Pesca says.

With the new year upon us, some big games are coming up -- especially the Jan. 10 championship matchup of Oregon and Auburn.

And on New Year's Day, the Rose Bowl will pit Wisconsin against Texas Christian University -- yet another smaller school going up against a more established team.

"If they beat Wisconsin," Pesca says of TCU, "I think people can give all the small schools a bit more credit." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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