EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Last Friday, the College Football Playoff announced it was expanding from four, to 12 teams by 2026 at the latest.
It will feature four first round games at host sites; quarterfinals and semifinals played at the current New Year’s Six bowls – that’s the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Peach, Rose and Sugar Bowls – and then a neutral site national championship game.
While an expanded playoff will likely be good for the long-term parity of college football, what does it mean for long-running bowl games outside of the playoff party, like the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl? KTSM talked with Sun Bowl officials and college football experts to find out.
In the first eight years of the College Football Playoff, Cincinnati in 2021 was the only team outside of a Power-5 conference to qualify for the four-team playoff.
“The less access you have to a championship, the less interest you have from people outside of that bubble. So for the health of the sport long term, it was important (to expand),” said Sam Khan, a college football reporter for The Athletic.
Khan believes that the expanded 12-team playoff will eventually make the on-field product in college football better. But a bigger playoff also means questions for bowl games on the outside looking in, like the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl.
“The bowls are important, they’re very important for the student-athletes, for the schools and obviously for the cities that host them,” said Sun Bowl executive director Bernie Olivas.
Now in its 89th year, the Sun Bowl is the second-oldest bowl game in college football. It’s connected not only to El Paso, but to the history of the sport.
“I think it’s something that this community needs, has to have, has to keep and will keep,” said the bowl’s football chairman, John Folmer.
The game still has a fantastic reputation around the nation, too.
“There’s still an attachment to them from a national college football perspective, especially the ones that have been around a long time,” said Khan.
Bowl games – even the ones featuring lesser teams from smaller conferences – continue to get strong ratings year after year. So even with an expanded playoff, expect bowl season to continue, even if it means potentially pulling up 5-7 teams to play the games.
“I don’t think that the bowls are in danger. They will continue to be played, schools will continue to want to go to the bowl games and cities will want to continue to host them,” said Olivas.
With a total annual payout of around $4.9 million to the Pac-12 and ACC in 2022, the Sun Bowl is in a good position to remain relevant, even though it won’t be involved in the CFP at this time.
However, with conference realignment constantly threatening to change the college football landscape, they’re also not afraid to look elsewhere, once the current bowl contract with the ACC, Pac-12 and sponsor Kellogg’s expires after 2025.
“If something were to happen to the Pac-12, obviously we would have to be looking at some conferences,” said Olivas. “The Big Ten has been with us before and were great partners. The Big 12 has been with us before and were great partners. Obviously, we would be looking for the best possible matchup that we could get.”
The Sun Bowl has aired on CBS since 1968. That could also help with any future negotiations, especially since the Big Ten just signed a deal with CBS – as well as a couple other networks – worth around $1 billion per year.
In the past, conference have liked the Sun Bowl’s tie-in with CBS, according to Olivas. If they remain on CBS as they have for the last 54 years, that figures to continue and will in turn, help the game get attractive matchups.
“Ultimately, what it comes down to in these bowl games is what is the matchup that you have? And if you have a quality matchup with quality teams, that’s going to feed into people’s perception of what that bowl is and how much it means to the sport,” said Khan.
College football has changed a lot since 1935; one thing that hasn’t, is the Sun Bowl’s presence in the sport. While the future isn’t always certain, bowl organizers remain confident.
“Our relationships that Bernie and I have developed over the years, as well as others, has really helped us with the knowledge of where we need to be and where we need to go,” said Folmer.
The 2022 Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl featuring the Pac-12 and the ACC will kickoff at noon MT on Dec. 30.