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The 12-team college football playoff: Where Bowl Games Stand in 2024 and Beyond.

More and more we are seeing the "stars" of NCAA football teams opt out of bowl games. The threat of injury isn't worth the reward of a bowl game win. The best players on most FBS teams have a shot at the NFL and by the time the season is wrapped up and a team is heading into a bowl game, most of those players have shown who they are and what they can do. A bowl game does nothing for them. So, with that being a problem already, does the 12-team CFP playoff that is starting in 2024 just increase this notion?

This season we have seen notable names such as USC QB Caleb Williams, Notre Dame QB Sam Hartman, UCLA DE Laiatu Latu, Florida State WR Johnny Wilson, and many others already opt out of their bowl games. Caleb Williams also had to answer questions as to why he even finished playing the season after their second loss of the season at the hands of Utah in week 8. Caleb Williams who won the Heisman in 2022 was already projected to be a high draft pick had he chosen to jump to the NFL then. But, he opted to return to USC for one more season, for a shot at that elusive national championship, as well as receiving almost 3 million dollars in NIL deals didn't hurt either.

For a lot of these guys, it seems to be playoffs or bust. There are a lot of good things about the expanded playoffs, but I don't see a way how that narrative doesn't continue, or worsen by expanding the playoffs. Next season, the NY6 bowl games will be the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of the new playoff system. So, teams like LSU who finished 13th in the final CFB Playoff Rankings would have been the first team left out of the playoffs. LSU already has nine players who have opted out of the ReliaQuest Bowl this season vs Wisconsin who has had 13 players opt out as well.

What can be done about this? How do we keep these guys on the teams, as well as motivated to play in bowl games? Now, I'm not so much of a college football loyalist that I can't understand that for some players it doesn't make sense to risk a career-ending injury and miss out on the NFL for a non-playoff bowl game, BUT for all these guys that are opting out so they can jump in the transfer portal or chase NIL money how could we keep them in the bowl games?

One idea would be putting a few more restrictions on the portal such as limiting transfers to only one transfer in your collegiate career. This gives the players the option to move in those weird events where certain coaches recruit them and then end up taking a job at a new school or other weird one-offs. They could also bring back requiring players to sit out a season when they transfer. This would strictly be to just discourage players from transferring, especially if they are thinking that they will play one more season and jump to the NFL. A little more outside-of-the-box idea would include penalties from NIL money for transferring, especially when doing so to chase NIL money.

So some of those ideas might help keep players out of the portal which in turn would result in more of them playing in the bowl games, but instead of going the deterrent route, could we somehow incentivize the players for still playing in these games? Some ideas that have been thrown around for the past couple of years have been cash prizes for the teams to divide out as they see fit. Let's say the bowl sponsors put up $350,000 total with the winning team getting $250,00 and the losing team getting $100,000. Schools could then choose what players get or divide it up evenly if they so choose. Another idea would be to have a cash prize for players of the game or key players which would specifically target those bigger-name players who are most likely to opt out.

I think the actual answer is probably somewhere in the middle of these options or a combination of them but bowl organizers need to do something. Fans are taking notice, with both bowl game attendance and viewership which have been steadily declining for years now. If the games aren't important to the players and the teams aren't putting their best product on the field then the games aren't going to be important to the fans either.

As someone who personally likes bowl games and someone who lives in a cold climate and would like to have an excuse to travel to a warmer place in December or January, I hope something can be done and that this isn't just the beginning of the end for bowl games as we know it.


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