As winter begins to settle in on most of the country, many thoughts turn to the holiday season. Turkey, pie, and frost covered window panes. But there are many folks that are preoccupied with other serious business: bowl season. For them, there are no sugar plums dancing just yet. They are the college football fans. If one is not familiar with the level of stress these folks seem to be under, it is understandable. For the outsider, trying to figure out how teams are selected to play in any of these games, let alone win a trophy, can be quite daunting. To begin this discussion one must travel back in time over one hundred years.

In 1890, the city of Pasadena in California hosted a parade for a local club. Having adorned their buggies in colorful flowers, they drove through town. It began a tradition of outdoor fun and competition the Tournament of Roses Parade had begun. Ten years later the organizers decided to expand the day by beginning an annual football contest or the tourney.

It began with two teams: Michigan and Stanford. That first game ended 49-0 in favor of Michigan.  The large margin of defeat may have been the reason that the Rose Committee did not choose to host another game for 14 years. In 1923, the game was taken to a massive new stadium and officially dubbed the Rose Bowl. It has been a News Year’s Day fixture ever since.

Ten years later, other cities began to take note of the financial benefit of trying to draw winter fans to warmer New Year’s destinations. The Sun Bowl, Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl all began in 1935 in El Paso, Miami, and New Orleans respectively. Two years later, the Cotton Bowl started in Arlington. It goes without saying that the number of bowl games has expanded just a bit since then.

The college bowl system has now turned into a way to try and find the best team in college football in addition to becoming a marketing enterprise for media and colleges alike. The process of choosing who will play in bowl games has been a thing of controversy among fans for many years.

The process of choosing of teams to compete in a bowl game has been in flux since the start of its tradition. After many different incarnations, there is currently the College Football Playoff, CFP, which will have its second year outside of the old system of the Bowl Championship Series, BCS.

The rankings for who gets into a game are based on more than wins and losses. There is a group of 13 officials, mostly former coaches, that decide the rankings for who get to compete in this yearly competition. There are many metrics, such as team strength of schedule, injuries, and weather that go into the determination that are outside of simple win and loss records. Many fans have criticized the selection process in all its forms over the years. Currently, all a team needs to potentially get into a bowl game is a 6-6 record. To be the big champion, there is now a playoff between the top four ranked teams culminating in a championship game. For the 2016-17 college bowl season, there are 38 games. They begin mid-December and will end at the start of January.

For the diehard fan, this is a nerve-wracking time of year. For the rest of us, it is only the start of winter. Regardless of how interested one is in college football, there is a long habit that should be recognized as important; that of being surrounded by friends and family as we all shout at the television on New Year’s Day cheering and jeering young athletes on the biggest stages many of them will ever see.


– By Sam Stinogel