Yes, there is value in all bowl games

BRENT BRIGGEMAN Updated: December 28, 2012 at 12:00 am • Published: December 28, 2012

FORT WORTH, TEXAS • From the outside looking in, there’s simply nothing elite about this matchup.

Rice (6-6) finished strong, rescuing a season that started 1-5 to earn its first bowl berth since 2008. Air Force was solid despite returning just five starters, gave Michigan a scare on the road but lost to Army and Navy and cruised in at 6-6.

Nothing in those combined 12 victories offers much in the way of excitement. The victims of the Falcons and Owls have a combined record of 51-96, the most impressive of the lot being Nevada (7-6) and Southern Methodist (7-6).

So it has come to this, a pair of .500 teams from non-BCS conferences meeting in one of 34 bowl games. It’s a bowl field as large as an NCAA Tournament bracket in basketball, making this the equivalent of a play-in game — except that the winner isn’t rewarded with another round.

This is the kind of matchup that results from an ever-rising flood of bowl games. In 1940 there were four games, the Orange, Rose, Sugar and Sun Bowls (there was also a Pineapple Bowl, but that was largely just to get an extra game for Hawaii, which went 2-5 that season).

There were eight bowl games 50 years ago, a number that grew to 11 after the 1972 season, 16 in 1982, 19 in 1992 and 28 in 2002. Now here we are, with the vast majority of six-win teams guaranteed one more game.

“I know there are too many bowl games, I will admit to that,” Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh said. “I mean, part of me looks at this and says, ‘I don’t know about 6-6 teams going to bowl game.’ But I’m quickly overriding that thought with all of the positives that come out of this experience.”

That’s the thing. From the inside the view of a bowl game — even this one — is vastly different from cynic’s view from afar. And why shouldn’t it be? These bowl games wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a market for them. ESPN will dedicate about four hours to broadcast the game, Bell Helicopter leads a list of more than 70 game sponsors — ranging from Bud Light Platinum and Pepsi to the Fort Worth Independent School District and Taylor’s Rental Equipment Co — pumping money into the game and anywhere between 27,000 and 42,000 fans will be on hand to watch the festivities in person.

Air Force is climbing toward its goal of selling 10,000 tickets to a fan base still energized as it prepares for its sixth consecutive bowl bid (the Falcons had sold 7,724 tickets as of Wednesday night).

Players and coaches sacrificed time from their long-awaited break to prepare for the game, with Air Force arriving as a team in Fort Worth on Christmas Eve and Rice the following day.

This kind of money and time wouldn’t be invested into a game that didn’t have value. So we talked to those involved to see what that value was.

Because it’s all a matter of 
perspective. IT MAY SEEM LIKE OLD HAT FOR AIR FORCE AFTER a sixth straight bowl invite, But Rice would 
love to replicate such a feat:

“What we’re trying to do is something along the lines of what Air Force has been doing – they’ve been in a bowl game six times, and we’re trying to do that.”

TAYLOR McHARGUE, 
RICE QUARTERBACK

Because it’s NOT JUST THE GAME ITSELF, but the goal of qualifying for a bowl that provides motivation throughout the season (and offseason):

“You have to have goals. For us we’ve always set three goals – win the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy, win the conference, go to a bowl game. Life is full of goals, everybody has to have goals and set those that are almost unachievable. Then when you do hit that, It’s kind of a reward for maybe the greatest season, but for us, we hit one of the three goals we had this year. The experience they have is like nothing else. ”

HANS MUEH, AIR FORCE ATHLETIC DIRECTOR

Because A fan base’s enthusiasm and attendance can count for a lot in the future:

“We might get invited to some places that we wouldn’t get invited to before just because we’ve proven that we can travel. ”

HANS MUEH, AIR FORCE ATHLETIC DIRECTOR

Because... well, for a lot of reasons:

“It’s irreplaceable. The additional 
practices. The morale boost that’s part of earning a bowl position, and to be able to keep doors open to make sure the realization that it’s possible. I remember about six years ago I heard it a lot, and from people you respected, too, that it might be too much to play in a major conference, to still play really difficult nonleague games and have your rivalry games, too, among the front range and the service academies and still be able to get to a bowl. These guys have proven it’s possible. ”

TROY CALHOUN, AIR FORCE COACH

Because THE WORK NEVER CEASES AND A RETURN ON THAT INVESTMENT IS ALWAYS NICE TO SEE:

“Literally right after this game I know the coaches and the players will be getting right back to work for next season. I think it is a little bit of a reward for your hard work. ”

CONNOR DIETZ, AIR FORCE QUARTERBACK

Because IT’S another chance to play:

“Most of us college football players grew up loving this game. It’s not a job or anything, it’s what we love to do. It’s just one more special opportunity to go out with our teammates who we’ve become so close with; play one more game and showcase what we’ve got. After that it’s all memory, especially for us seniors. ”

ALEX MEANS, AIR FORCE LINEBACKER

Because A fan base’s enthusiasm and attendance can count for a lot in the future:

“we might get invited to some places that we wouldn’t get invited to before just because we’ve proven that we can travel. ”

HANS MEUH, AIR FORCE ATHLETIC DIRECTOR

Because IT SURE BEATS THE ALTERNATIVE:

“Some of my buddies I went to high school with, they’re done with football now just because they didn’t go to a bowl. So it’s always fun to be able to play in December.”

CODY GETZ, AIR FORCE RUNNING BACK

Because THE SPOTLIGHT DOESN’t Often shine on these schools, but it will on Saturday morning when they’re the only game in that time slot:

“Knowing that we’re the only team on TV and everyone’s kind of watching us. Friends and family back home that couldn’t make it to the game get to see us on ESPN. It’s a great opportunity and we cherish those moments when we get them.”

ALEX MEANS, AIR FORCE LINEBACKER

Because IT FULFILLS A DREAM:

“This is a dream for me, to go to a bowl game, to play in December ... to finally be able to be here is really special”

CODY BOWER, RICE DEFENSIVE END

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