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The Bowl Game Concept Is Gaining Traction

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The Bowl Game Concept Is Gaining Traction

From the 2015 ACRC Bowl Series. Alex Goff handing out awards to NC State and South Carolina. Lex McCurry photo.

One of the ramifications of what’s going on with college rugby during USA Rugby’s reorganization is that we’re resetting priorities.

You know that Goff Rugby Report has long been an advocate of bowl games as a nice way to wrap up the season, and now that concept has taken hold throughout the college game, and for a number of reasons.

1. A playoff championship run is expensive. Now, right off the bat, we don’t want to denigrate the concept of playing for a championship. It is a noble thing and we’re all for it. But it can also be a hardship, especially for a small club team on campus. (This is even more of a problem in the senior club game, where a run to a D2 or D3 final four can basically bankrupt a club.)

2. Playoffs are too big. It’s nice for the ego to say you made the national playoffs, but there’s no reason to include the #3 team from a conference (as USA Rugby’s D2 college playoffs do), and finally everyone seems to be in agreement that D1A’s Round of 16 is one round too many.

3. Playoffs should not be about bragging rights. “Our #2 is better than your #1” is a childish way to look at it. While we don’t want to get into which oversight organization is better or worse, the artist formerly known as NSCRO has had a challenge playoff for small college teams for years. This doesn’t seem like the best use of resources for anyone. It’s not even a championship—it’s a multi-round playoff for a consolation trophy.

(By the way, we know that the MAC runner-up made the D1AA fall final in 2019, and the Great Midwest runner-up made the D2 final, so yes, maybe there’s a place for some #2s … maybe.)

4. Competitive Balance 1. In the last three years, the first round of D1A playoffs have produced eight (out of 20) games decided by more than 60 points. The average deficit in those games? 86.

5. Competitive Balance 2. Only 11 different college teams have made the D1A semis over the nine years those semis have been held. Only six of those have made the semis twice: Arkansas State, BYU, Cal, Life, Lindenwood, and Saint Mary’s. 

Of the 36 spots in the semis, the Mid-South has claimed half of them, with the California Conference getting eight and the PAC seven. The other conferences: Liberty, Rocky Mountain, Big 10, Red River, and the independents have made it to the semis three times.

So most of the D1A conferences would really benefit from another brass ring to reach for.

6. Seasonality. In D1A, some teams have to wait months for that first-round playoff game. In D1AA, you’ve got a fall championship and a spring championship, so you don’t really have a champion. Same goes for women D1 and women D2.

The answer to all of this is the bowl game. It’s where most conferences and, finally, some overseeing the game are embracing the idea. As we said before, Stephen Siano championed this with his Bowl Series and it really only needed someone to support that idea. Unfortunately at the time, just about everyone got USA Rugby Syndrome, the main symptom being the feeling that if someone else had the idea, that idea must be ignored or dismissed or crushed.

Bowl Game Concept Deserves A Comeback

(Perhaps the best upshot of all this USA Rugby drama is that this symptom of USA Rugby Syndrome might be quashed, at least a little bit.)

What the Bowl Game can do is bring together like-minded and like-competitive teams in a compelling event that fans and teams and players will enjoy. Bragging rights belong here, not in extended playoffs. This is where we can recreate the rivalries of major college sports. This is where you can create a nod to history. Just as Life plays Arkansas State for the Huckaby Cup or Air Force plays Navy for the Shea Cup, could you not name a bowl game after a prominent alumnus, especially one who played rugby? 

Fun Is Not A Four-Letter Word

The Bowl Games concept isn’t just for D1A or just for men. It translates across all boundaries.

The Bowl Games address the seasonality issue (play some in December, and some in April). The Bowl Games save time and expense and planning. The Bowl Games make it easier to finish off the fall with something big, and then get back to school and study for finals (which are more important anyway). The Bowl Games produce marketable matchups.

The Bowl Games are more fun. 

And that, through all of this, is what everyone is finally figuring it. It’s still supposed to be fun. We’re still listing “student” first in student-athlete. 

What we’ll see, or should see in the future years:

Bowl Games between name schools or schools with natural rivalries.

Bowl Game events, with multiple games at the same venue as a broadcast and fan-attraction event. 

A blurring of the lines between D1A and D1AA and event D1 and D2. Much of D1A and D1AA is really “Division 1.” There’s not a huge difference between some D1A teams ranked 20-45 and D1AA teams ranked 1-25. And some of those teams have fabulous natural rivalries that should be exploited.

Playoffs should happen. Champions deserve to be recognized. But we’re all realizing now that what we miss is rugby every weekend and those special memories