Bowl Disses: What Fuels Disdain For WVU Bowl Games?
From the moment West Virginia was announced as a participant in the 2018 Camping World Bowl, catcalls and “no thanks” views began spilling onto social media sites, and across a fair proportion of the Mountaineer fanbase. With the acknowledgement that about 85 percent of social media is unfounded noise, what are some of the remaining reasons that spiked the negative commentary about WVU’s postseason destination? Some are obvious, some perhaps a bit more obscure.
A Disappointing End To The Regular Season
It’s human nature to be affected by disappointment, and this factor looms fairly large. WVU had only to win one of its remaining two regular season games to secure a spot in the Big 12 Championship, which would have likely resulted in at least a Sugar Bowl spot. There was also the more unlikely dream of sweeping both games, then winning the league title, which could have put the Mountaineers in the College Football Playoff.
None of that, unfortunately, came to pass, setting up the comparison of the Camping World Bowl, a game which has had no fewer than seven names in its relatively brief 28-year, two-city history, against one of the seminal games on the collegiate landscape. That’s a no-win scenario for any lower-level bowl.
A Familiar Opponent
Are the same people complaining about the opponent in this bowl the ones decrying the loss of traditional opponents? There’s probably some intersection, which automatically disqualifies them from any further commentary. However, there are those who are fully committed to the Big 12, and have no desire to return to West Virginia’s eastern roots. They view Syracuse as a representative of WVU’s less-tough schedule in the old days of the Big East or eastern independence, even though the Orange were one of the stalwarts of those groupings. Also, while the Cuse hasn’t been great in recent years, it roared back this season to post a quality campaign. The fact that observers don’t want to acknowledge that won’t make Dino Babers’ troops any less difficult of a foe.
The Perception of “Minor” Bowls
This is something of a follow-on to the first item, but there are a couple of different angles. First, in today’s dismissive, hot take society, any bowl game that’s not in the CFP is immediately categorized as irrelevant. In the category of “repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”, this opinion continues to flourish, so much so that snark about “meaningless” bowls is on the daily diet in December.
The question here for those who believe most bowls are irrelevant is this: Why are you wasting so much of your time talking about something that you think doesn’t matter? Do non-CFP bowls as they exist present a danger to society or to the college game? Those who think they are merely exhibitions and add nothing to the game are entitled to their opinion, but aren’t there things that do matter that are worth their attention?
The line between certain tiers of bowl games is clearly seen by some players, too, as demonstrated in the decisions of Will Grier and Yodny Cajuste, who chose to end their collegiate careers early. It’s tough to imagine that they would have done so had WVU been playing in the Sugar Bowl. Thus, the basis of “wanting to begin preparation for a pro career” becomes meaningless. They simply don’t want to risk an injury in what they perceive to be a lesser bowl.
The Grier/Cajuste Decisions
The fact that two senior leaders chose to skip the game has been discussed, and we won’t revisit that here. However, when fans see that, it pushes a powerful message: This game isn’t worth it to me, so it probably isn’t worth it to you. No amount of publicity by a school athletic department attempting to fan the flames of former incidents between the two schools is going to boost ticket sales in the face of that, no matter how unintended it might be.
What they’re Ignoring
While there are certainly bowl contests that are disasters in terms of operations and planning (looking at you, Pinstripe and Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowls), the Camping World isn’t one of them. It is second on the league’s bowl partner selection list, and is paired up with the ACC’s first such team. It has the hope of good weather, and is a prime travel destination. Granted, the three days after Christmas date isn’t ideal, but if you can make something out of a Dec. 26 bowl game trip, then this one certainly shouldn’t be a hardship. Also, the Camping World Bowl does have a decently entertaining Twitter account, for those who are influenced by such things.
Second, outside the New Year’s Six, the Camping World (#16 WVU vs. #17 Syracuse) is one of only three bowls matching Top 25 teams. The other two are the Citrus Bowl (#15 Kentucky vs. #12 Penn State), and the Holiday Bowl (#22 Northwestern vs. #19 Utah). If these games took place during the regular season, they would get plenty of attention, interest and pregame buildup. They’d involve near-capacity crowds. Should they be thrown away just because they don’t occur on New Year’s Day, or won’t lead the winner to a Top 10 ranking?
Finally, from a program perspective, West Virginia needs a win. It has shown an alarming propensity for a less-than-inspired effort in recent bowl games, and that can’t be blamed on failed expectations leading to letdowns every year. While a victory won’t have a huge carryover influence in 2019, being able to add a win to its bowl record has to count for something, doesn’t it?