What if we just replaced bowl skippers with redshirts and transfers?


Last week I said I wasn’t going to write a Mailbag this week, because that’s what I do every year, because college football usually shuts itself down around this time (save for the Boca Raton Bowl). This year, on the other hand, there’s just been so … much … news.

Stewart, will the Leonard Fournette/Christian McCaffrey decisions be (as you wrote) the possible turning point for college football moving into a broader playoff era, or moving towards paying athletes? Would those two players be more inclined to skip their bowl games if they were earning a paycheck in college?

— Brian Stewart, Buford, Ga.

Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey (Wesley Hitt and David Madison/Getty Images)

Let me address the last part first. I’ve noticed that many people who believe athletes should be paid have used these guys’ decisions as an excuse for yet another rant about amateurism. These two guys are months away from signing contracts in the $10-$20 million range. Is $10,000 really going to make a difference in whether or not they play the Citrus Bowl? Mind you, both already have loss-of-value insurance that ensures they’re going to get their millions even on the off chance they suffer draft stock-altering injuries.

But there’s another issue worth considering. Presumably, if/when we reach the point of schools paying players — and as I wrote last month, that day doesn’t exactly appear imminent — presumably it would involve some sort of contract. And presumably that contract would include specific language that you have to finish the season in order to collect your full earnings.

In terms of the broader postseason ramifications, we know the playoff will expand to six or eight after its current 12-year contract ends. It’s inevitable. But I don’t understand why there are people who want an eight-team playoff and are openly rooting for the bowl system to implode in hopes of expediting that process.

Do you really want a day where only eight of the 128 FBS schools get to play in the postseason? Heck, let’s say it’s a 16-team playoff (not happening). Even then, just 13 percent of the country’s fan bases have a rooting interest in the postseason. By comparison, nearly 40 percent of NFL teams make the playoffs.

Maybe you won’t mind this if you’re a fan of a regular playoff contender like Alabama or Ohio State, but if you’re a fan of Purdue, Kentucky, Oregon State, Texas Tech, etc. — what is your team playing for? And how soon before you lose interest?

That to me is the most troubling part of this potential new trend. Yes, bowls are devalued, and take on less meaning than they did in a previous generation. But they still serve an important purpose. It’s in everybody’s best interest that they remain viable.

Stewart: In order to increase interest in non-playoff bowls, and to offset the effect of McCaffrey-type players dropping out of bowl games, how about allowing teams to play redshirted players in the bowl game without the players losing their redshirt status? 

— John M, Fort Worth, Texas

Jarrett Stidham (Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

I actually love this idea — because you’re absolutely right. At least for the bigger programs, non-New Year’s Six bowls have become as much a springboard for the following season as they are a culmination of the current season. Would a Georgia fan be more interested in the Liberty Bowl if it meant getting to see that four-star running back play his first college game? And what about transfers? What if Jarrett Stidham could make his Auburn debut in the Sugar Bowl? Not that the coaches should suddenly bench the guys that got them there, but give the new guys a few reps.

Another idea you’re starting to hear more of is moving the bowl games to the beginning of the season. How you do in 2016 determines how glamorous a spot you open the 2017 season and against what caliber of an opponent. Oklahoma, you went 10-2 and won the Big 12; next year you get to open the season in New Orleans against Auburn. Which could be a nice resume-builder for a playoff run. Congrats on getting to .500, Vanderbilt and NC State. You earned yourselves an extra game to start next season — in Shreveport, La.

Let’s be honest, that’s only going to work if the games are at one team’s home stadium. Which does make me wonder — why can’t we do both? Bowl games stay where they are, but every team in the country holds open one non-conference date to be played against an opponent that finishes the previous season with a similar record. That actually makes more sense to me than schools announcing home-and-homes for 2027.

Stewart: As video of Joe Mixon hitting a woman back in 2014 becomes public, how was Oklahoma allowed to call him sitting out in 2014 a suspension when they redshirted him that year? Instead of losing one of the four years he is allowed to compete, it was simply postponed.

— Matt

Joe Mixon (Brett Deering/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Brett Deering

It’s a suspension because, unlike a typical redshirt player, he was not a member of the team during that year. He was still in school but not allowed to practice or partake in any team activities during that season. He returned for winter conditioning the next semester. And practically speaking, a school cannot strip a player’s eligibility. The NCAA rule is you have five years to play four. It just so happens that Mixon hadn’t yet used his extra year.

That being said, one form of recourse Oklahoma could have employed but didn’t would be to take him off scholarship for that season. If you truly want to send a message that punching a female student in the face is not acceptable on your campus, then take away the privilege of attending the school for free.

But that was never the intent here. Oklahoma president David Boren, AD Joe Castiglione and coach Bob Stoops carefully crafted a punishment they could sell to the public as something significant but not too punitive, lest they risk their five-star recruit leaving and going to play for someone else.

It’s extremely disappointing how they handled the situation. I don’t know how people in leadership could watch that video — watch the sheer violence of his hit, the nonchalance with which he walks away, the gruesome sight of her head hitting the table and the even more gruesome sight of her bloody, disfigured face afterward — and sign off on him remaining a representative of your university.

The playoff system has hurt the importance of the lesser bowls. There appears to be LESS interest, yet we get MORE bowls. There seems to be a disconnect here. Help this layman understand the financial model behind this? It has got to be about the $$$.

— Allan from Chicago

(Michael Chang/Getty Images)

Trust me, no one’s getting rich off the Camellia Bowl.

The driving impetus for so many more bowls over the past several years was the Group of 5 conferences wanting better options than were available to them and/or not wanting their 6-6 teams to be left out of a bowl. So they literally created more bowls. In particular, the American plays in three bowls — Miami Beach, Boca Raton and Cure — that didn’t exist three years ago. The Mountain West launched the Arizona Bowl last year without even having a TV partner.

Of the seven bowls to sprout up since 2014, only one, Quick Lane, is affiliated with major conferences. And that Detroit bowl basically just replaced another (Little Caesar’s) that already had a Big Ten partnership.

But of course, ESPN wouldn’t be televising these games if they didn’t see a return on their investment. And in fact, of the 14 bowls that began in 2006 or later, ESPN owns and operates half of them (Birmingham, New Mexico, St. Petersburg, Heart of Dallas, Bahamas, Boca Raton and Camellia).

So that tells you they likely rate highly enough to be profitable. (The New Mexico and Camellia bowls both did a 1.0 overnight on Saturday.) It also helps that in most cases they pay the schools almost nothing to participate. In the past, the published team payout for the Camellia Bowl (which may not be exact) was $100,000 each. Alabama pays its interns more than that.

Hey Stewart: Do you think the New Year’s Eve semifinal TV ratings will improve from last year?  And do you think an Ohio State-Alabama national championship game would surpass the 35.6 million viewers that tuned in to the 2006 Texas-USC Rose Bowl?

— Scott Sandy, Cobleskill, NY

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Yes and yes.

The semifinal ratings, which plunged 36 percent on New Year’s Eve last year, will shoot back up both because Dec. 31 is a Saturday and because the night game starts an hour earlier. I still don’t think they will come close to the first year, when you had the perfect storm of a Jan. 1 date plus Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota in one game and Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer in the other. But barring two blowouts, the ratings should be up significantly from last year.

As for the second part, consider that in 2014, Ohio State-Oregon drew 33.4 million. No disrespect to Oregon, but Alabama is a far bigger TV draw, and in fact, Ohio State and Alabama are the two most powerful brands in the sport today. But I don’t think it has to be Ohio State, either. An Alabama-Clemson rematch, with the Tide being billed as potentially the greatest team of all time if they win, would also likely top the Texas-USC number.

Hi Stewart, I noticed that both you and Bruce chose USC over Penn State in the Rose Bowl. In fact, almost every prediction I’ve seen has USC coming out on top. Why do you think this is? Both teams have beaten top 10 opponents and both are among the hottest teams, but as a Penn State fan I don’t get why the support seems so totally over to USC’s side.

— Mark Weaver, Pittsburgh

(Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Joe Sargent

Good question. Given the last time we saw the Nittany Lions they were unleashing an offensive explosion against a very good Wisconsin defense, and given a large segment of the public believed they should be one of the four playoff teams you would think the predictions would be more even.

Sometimes with a team like Penn State that seemingly came out of nowhere it’s hard to shake the suspicion that there may be a little bit of a “too good to be true” element that will eventually run out. Conversely, its opponent, USC, clearly underachieved the first month of the season before seemingly morphing into a finished product. Most of us assume the Trojans are more talented.

And while this should have no bearing, I’d be lying if I said the memory of USC under Pete Carroll crushing all those overmatched Big Ten foes (including an 11-1 Penn State team) in the Rose Bowl isn’t stuck in the back of my head.

If I were you, I’d be feeling really good right now. When all the “experts” think the same thing, it all but assures the opposite will happen.

Now that Lane Kiffin has rehabbed his image and gotten another head coaching chance, how long before we see Bo Pelini back in the FBS ranks? Does he ever get a chance at a Power 5 program again? 

— James Oltman 

(Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports)
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Pelini is certainly enjoying himself some redemption at Youngstown State, where, in his second season, the Penguins are 12-3 and one win away from their first national championship since 1997. And I can’t imagine the Youngstown native is in any rush to get out of there.

Whereas it seemed like he spent most of his Nebraska tenure trying not to get fired, Pelini is being hailed as a savior at his new school, which had not been to the FCS playoffs in a decade prior to this season. Pelini is only 49. If I were him, I’d plan on setting up shop there for the duration and try to turn Youngstown into the new North Dakota State.

However, should his ambitions center around moving back up to the big time, he may have to temper his expectations. Just as ADs aren’t yet ready to forgive Lane Kiffin for his various embarrassments, potential employers are going to be reminded of the time he got caught on a recording cursing out the entire fan base or, in a meeting with players after his dismissal, using a whole bunch of expletives to describe AD Shawn Eichorst.

I’m guessing Pelini could land a decent Group of 5 job tomorrow. But he arguably has a better job where he is. Yes, he makes just $214,000 a year, but Nebraska still pays him another $128,000 a month through February 2019. I suppose Pelini could emulate another ex-Nebraska coach, Frank Solich, and spend the next decade taking a MAC school to the Dollar General Bowl. Or, he could stay in his hometown and lead one of the proudest programs in FCS to annual playoff appearances.

Would you rather have only 16 bowl games or a 16-team playoff?

— Daniel Thomas

Definitely 16 bowl games.

It’s not like I wouldn’t intently watch the 16-team playoff. I just don’t know why I’d bother with the 14-week regular season before it.

Stewart – What do you think about Michigan State and Mark Dantonio not making any staff changes? Should he change it up some (particularly on offense) or are you on the side of continuity is best? It is the same staff that had them in the playoff last year, but it really feels like they are falling behind since the loss of Pat Narduzzi. 

— Dan Weber

(Mike Carter/USA TODAY Sports)

I think it’s a refreshing acknowledgement that one down season — albeit a spectacularly bad one — is not cause for hitting the panic button. In the SEC, he’d have already fired both coordinators, which may explain why most SEC programs not named Alabama seem to be operating in a perpetual state of chaos. Dantonio won at least 11 games five times in the six seasons prior to this one. He’s earned himself a mulligan.

But no question, Narduzzi was a special defensive coordinator. He did spectacular things there, and most importantly, he and Dantonio were always on the same page philosophically. It’s unquestionably troubling that the Spartans have gone from 27th nationally in yards per play allowed in Narduzzi’s last season to 53rd last season and this season. If things don’t improve next season, then I assume Dantonio will look to make a change.

But right now, three of his four co-coordinators on either side of the ball (Dave Warner on offense, Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel) have been with him for all 10 seasons in East Lansing. They’ve had a heck of a run together. Give Dantonio the benefit of the doubt they’ll figure things out.

Hi Stewart: Doc Brown shows up at your home with his time machine DeLorean.  He will take you back in time to one bowl game that you didn’t witness in person.  Which bowl game would it be?  And yes, using your knowledge of the past, you are allowed to place a hefty bet on this game.

— Justin M., Los Angeles, CA

Oh, without question, the Boise State-Oklahoma Fiesta Bowl. I was covering the Michigan-USC Rose Bowl that day and made it back to the media hotel just in time to see all the ridiculous twists and turns of the fourth quarter and overtime. From what I’ve heard from colleagues who were there, it would have been amazing to cover.

Also, I probably could have found plenty of people to take my Boise State wager.