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The 2023 college football bowl season has been a disaster. Can it be fixed? Should we even bother?

We love college football. And what’s been on the field this December isn’t worthy of The Best Sport.

Georgia Bulldogs running back Kendall Milton rushes for a touchdown against the Florida State Seminoles in the first half during the 2023 Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium. Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The DK Network college football staff is presently watching the Orange Bowl become exactly what we thought it would be; a total shellacking of an undermanned Florida State by Georgia. Add it to the list of terrible games we’ve gotten this bowl season because of the pursuit of every single penny by athletic departments.

The sport we love needs to be better than this. Here’s our suggestions as to how we can fix it going forward.

Collin Sherwin: College football is doing its damndest to turn their golden goose into pâté.

The sport more steeped in tradition and rivalry than any other now has UCLA vs. Michigan State in men’s gymnastics as a conference meet. Those Oregon vs. Rutgers volleyball matchups nobody wanted are here too.

Two proud programs in Oregon State and Wazzu are going to play for a Latchkey Kid Trophy annually, because their decades-long conference mates decided to spend more time at O’Hare and Midway airports in search of bigger budgets. Budgets that will be dwarfed by the even larger budgets of their new conference mates, thus eliminating any competitive advantage. Roll safe, SoCal.

College football is in crisis because there’s no one to tell collegiate athletics administrators no. Fortunately there’s still enough billions of dollars in America’s most passionate sport to solve the problem.

The direct issue we’re here to address is that Florida State’s Orange Bowl roster is a joke, but no one wearing a uniform or a headset is at fault. If I’m Georgia’s Brock Bowers or FSU’s Keon Coleman, I am for sure going Ricky Watters “For Who, For What” and not fumbling the bag. School pride is great, but generational wealth is better.

So now all the non-Playoff games simply don’t matter anymore? Well that’s dumb too. There’s about to be 135 teams in FBS next season, but only 12 (and honestly it should be less, six or eight makes way more sense to preserve the integrity of the regular season) have a reason to play after the first weekend in December?

Bollocks. Keep the non-Playoff bowl games, and make them matter.

If we’re going to fix the bowls, we can start by insuring any player in the projected Top 250 of the next NFL Draft against injury for the postseason. Each P5 conference gets $79 million per year from the College Football Playoff, and the G5 splits $103 million across all leagues. That of course skyrockets next year thanks to the expanded Playoff, and those numbers are before per-team bonuses and travel expenses.

Our new Willis McGahee Rule will make rosters look much more like the regular season, and give the season some continuity.

But part of the problem is also something that I am loathe to accept, but I just don’t see a way around it. There’s so many meaningless bowl games, players and fans lump all of them together. The Camellia Bowl and the Citrus Bowl become the same thing, which sucks because places like San Diego and El Paso have tremendous tradition around their postseason homes.

You’ll rarely meet someone has hyped up for a Bahamas Bowl as yours truly, and I spent my own money and hotel points going to the Boca Raton Bowl last week. College football is the best sport in the world, and I treasure every single game irrelevant of the stakes.

But to the general public, we’ve devalued the postseason product. These games have to be meaningful for fans and players. So with apologies to our friends at the 68 Ventures Bowl, we’ve got to do some downsizing.

We’re keeping only 10 non-New Year’s Six bowl games. In alphabetical order but subject to change:

Mayo (it’s great, but see below)
ReliaQuest (you’re the Hall of Fame Bowl again, no more corporate names)
Las Vegas
TBA on the tenth, but maybe the Gasparilla in Tampa?? Because we’re making destinations matter again too. With the occasional exception of Memphis and El Paso, all the games listed are in pretty good weather. Bowls should be a reward for a great season, and nobody want to be in Boston or the Bronx right now.

But how do you make the games matter? The same way the NBA did for the In Season Tournament! Players on the winning team split $2 million. That’s a helluva lot better than the gift bag, bowl-logo’ed personal DVD player your friend two cubicles over got as a walk-on in the TicketCity Bowl in 2011.

Also all G5 conference champs get auto-bids. If you win your league, you play in the postseason.

This isn’t a perfect solution. But if there’s only 10 bowls, each one can be on a separate day. And if they’re on TV at the same time every day that’s even better for the casual fan and/or bettor.

You can have a Playoff and a bowl postseason that matters. But you need to think outside the box a bit, and be willing to sacrifice a bit of the present for the safety of the future.

Or you can just end all this short-sighted insanity, bring back the Pac-12, and have programs stop chasing every single dollar no matter where on the continent its located??

Hey, a fan can dream.

Grace McDermott: How is it that the 2023 Orange Bowl, a showdown between a 12-1 reigning national champion and an undefeated, snubbed Power 5 championship winner, is of no more importance than last week’s Camellia Bowl between Northern Illinois and Arkansas State? When the BCS championship format was still in place, this would have been one of the biggest games of the season for both teams and for spectators and fans of the sport. Now, it’s defined by what it isn’t: a ticket to the national championship.

Most of Florida State’s top starters opted out of this bowl, as did Georgia’s star tight end Brock Bowers. The opt-outs are accepted as part of the sport now, particularly in games where a national title isn’t on the line. Without Bowers even announcing his intent to sit this one out, everyone had that feeling that Georgia would be playing without their top receiver.

So how do we fix this bleh-ness surrounding the bowls? The 12-team playoff will certainly broaden teams’ interests in participating in the postseason and give meaning and significance to more postseason games — but for teams outside the top 12, their bowls may become even less important. The 12-team playoff mitigates some of the issues that the four-team playoff created, but it falls a long way off from solving all of them.

Perhaps bowl sponsors could offer name, image, and likeness benefits to participating athletes on each team. Admittedly, for top players, that would need to be a generous offer to offset the risks of an injury that drops one’s draft stock. But it might keep a few players around for non-championship-seeking bowl games.

In the end, we may just need to admit to ourselves that the college football postseason is never going to look the same. The CFP format has rendered all other bowl games effectively meaningless, and that feeling pervades the sport this time of year. Now, bowl game excitement is garnered less by the teams participating and more by the sponsors’ social media accounts and silly gimmicks (see: Duke’s Mayo, Pop-Tarts). If the future of bowl season is leaning into the fun and the lack of stakes, at least that’s a better fate than unattended, unwatched games full of second- and third-string players that come and go without any fanfare or effort.

Nick Simon: The Orange Bowl is stepped into the fabric of the sport and yet, we’re now watching Georgia bomb Florida State’s scout team because of a committee’s decision to leave the Noles out of the CFP. We’ve lost the plot of this entire operation. The New Year’s Six bowl games will be absorbed into the quarterfinals/semifinals of the expanded 12-team playoff in the future, so I guess that they’ll mean something in that format. But that’s lame as hell.

We have sacrificed everything in the pursuit of crowning a national champion and have recklessly killed off the central pillars of the sport. And for what? So Penn State fans can feel good about themselves for a week before James Franklin loses another big game? So we can play more games just to arrive at the inevitable Alabama/Clemson/Georgia/Ohio State national title game that we’ve always had?

As far as fixing the bowl system goes, we can’t. By introducing this parasitic playoff system to the sport, we decided that the Rose, Orange, Sugar, Cotton, Peach, Duke’s Mayo, (Insert random sponsor) Independence Bowls no longer mattered as standalone entities. We spit in the face of the college football gods and now we’re too far gone. There’s no going back. Eat at Arby’s.