Bowl tie-ins not the answer

William Cowper, who penned the phrase "Variety's the very spice of life," probably wouldn't be a big fan of college football's bowl tie-ins.

Tennessee fans can relate. Their team visited Orlando for back-to-back Citrus Bowls in 1995 and 1996. It visited Atlanta for back-to-back Peach Bowls in 2002 and 2003. It visited Tampa for back-to-back Outback Bowls in 2006 and 2007. Each time the fan following was worse for Year 2 than for Year 1. Well, duh ... You don't want steak for dinner if you just had steak for lunch.

Unless the 2008 Vols qualify for the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, however, odds are pretty good they'll be returning to Orlando, Atlanta or Tampa next January.

The Citrus Bowl is now called the Capital One and the Peach Bowl is now called the Chick Fil-A. Regardless, once you've visited Orlando and Atlanta twice each, you'd kind of like to visit someplace else. That isn't likely to happen for UT fans in '08, however, because of the bowl tie-ins.

The most famous bowl tie-in, of course, is the one the Big Ten and the Pac 10 have with the Rose Bowl. That's why fans had to watch Southern Cal manhandle Illinois earlier this week, instead of seeing the Trojans face a legitimate opponent such as Virginia Tech or Georgia or West Virginia. Hey, why let an ACC or SEC or Big East team fill the Big Ten's slot in Pasadena when you can put a 49-17 beat-down on prime-time TV instead?

The Southeastern Conference has no room to sneer at the Big Ten and Pac 10, however, because it leads the free world in bowl tie-ins. The league champ goes to the Sugar Bowl (unless it qualifies for the BCS title game). The SEC's No. 2 team (theoretically) goes to the Capital One. The best Eastern Division team that remains (theoretically) goes to the Outback and the best Western Division team that remains (theoretically) goes to the Cotton Bowl. The No. 6 team goes to the Chick Fil-A Bowl, No. 7 to the Liberty Bowl and No. 8 to the Music City Bowl.

This sounds like a reasonably fair system but it isn't. Tennessee had a 10-2 record and a No. 6 national ranking in 2003, yet wound up playing in the Peach Bowl, a game normally reserved for the SEC's sixth-best team.

The Vols haven't won an SEC championship since 1998, but they generally rank between No. 2 and No. 6 among league teams. That's why their last seven bowl trips featured two Cotton Bowls (2000 and 2004), two Peach Bowls (2002 and 2003) and two Outback Bowls (2006 and 2007).

The Cotton Bowl offers a rich tradition. The Capital One offers balmy weather, as does the Outback. The Chick Fil-A offers proximity. Still, Tennessee fans might enjoy spending the holidays in someplace other than Tampa, Orlando, Dallas or Atlanta every year.

Thanks to college football's bowl tie-ins, however, that isn't likely to happen in the foreseeable future.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories