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January 1 Bowls Ain’t What They Used to Be

January 1st, 2013 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, College football, UAE, UCLA, USC

For the first two decades of my journalism career, January 1 was the zenith of college football. The Biggest Day. The Longest Day. And we planned coverage of New Year’s Day football in great detail, and needed enormous sections to display everything that happened.

Four or five or six bowl games, including all of the biggest — the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton and, later, the Fiesta. All on January 1. By the end of the day, someone was going to be national champion. It was tidy that way.

The third decade of my career, the decay of January 1 began. This or that big bowl would hold back a day. Or two. Then along came the BCS title game, and that two or three days later became a week. Or more.

And now?

January 1 looks mostly like another interesting day in the college football season. But those have been going on since August.

Some of the bowl games played today: the Gator Bowl, The Heart of Dallas Bowl, the Capital One Bowl.

Some of the teams playing today: Northern Illinois, Mississippi State,  Purdue, South Carolina, Northwestern. Not many traditional heavyweights there.

January 1 clearly has been devalued as college football TV real estate. A lot of it is about some of the bigger bowls wanting to play on their own day, in prime time. Thus, the Sugar Bowl is January 2, the Fiesta Bowl on January 3, the Cotton Bowl on January 4, a couple of random bowls the next two days, and then on January 7, finally, the BCS Championship Game, in Miami, and I’m not even sure if the venue and date originally belonged to something else. (The Orange Bowl, maybe?)

It is very difficult to follow college football from outside North America. Actually, from outside the United States.

When you leave the country, a person first loses touch with the high schools. Of course. Too many of them. You lose touch with high schools by moving 84 miles, let alone 8,400.

But the colleges come soon after.

College football is available in the UAE, but you have to work at it. And getting wall-to-wall coverage of any specific team is serious work.

Without buying special packages or finding some streaming something, you can figure on seeing one of the top 40 teams maybe twice in a season. Unless it is Alabama and the SEC; those might get exposure 3-4 times.

I am interested, in particular, in USC and UCLA. The former might have been available here four times. The Bruins? Maybe twice. And then take into account that to watch them live, in the UAE, in Abu Dhabi, means some middle-of-the-night date, and do you care enough to destroy your sleep schedule?

The NFL remains accessible. Just. Fewer teams, three or four games available every weekend, mostly through ESPN America, and that is a fair chunk of a 32-team league’s season. I am now a bigger NFL fan than college football fan, and I never thought that possible — until my access to one began to far exceed the other.

So, January 1 went past me, and I didn’t watch one minute of college football. That’s what happens, in your fourth year of living on the other side of the world. That’s what happens when the day’s games have been seriously devalued. That’s what happens when you don’t know any college team very well, and thus care for them very little.


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