With the large majority of the 40 college football bowl games already completed, postseason competition has certainly lived up to the hype.
For example, while not every game has featured traditional powerhouses, over 3.3 million viewers tuned into this year’s Las Vegas Bowl featuring Fresno State and Arizona State — both of whom welcomed a payout of $1.35 million for participating.
Outside of the revenue generated, bowl games offer more than just a chance to end the season with a victory, but rather a unique experience for players, coaches, and fans. In one fun instance, the Capital One Orange Bowl created a personalized bobblehead of each student-athlete who participated in this year’s game.
To put this all in perspective, media coverage and game highlights can overshadow the overall experience bowl games provide to student-athletes. Here are three examples of players enjoying activities beyond the game and off the field this postseason.
Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl: Toledo Rockets vs. FIU Panthers
One of the youngest and most unique bowl games, the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl was certified in May of 2014 and is the lone bowl game where fans need a passport to travel.
The Toledo Rockets and FIU Panthers had an opportunity to make a difference off the field prior to their game last week by participating in two community outreach events in the capital of Nassau. Both teams visited the Ranfurly Home for Children, where players enjoyed basketball, foot races, and volleyball with the children residing there.
“For someone like me, I have never been out of the United States until now, so I can speak firsthand on the importance of staying disciplined and watching things work in your favor,” said Willie Ross Jr., a junior defensive tackle for the Toledo Rockets.
Richard Giannini, the executive director of the Bahamas Bowl, took things a step further and donated 3,000 bowl tickets to students in New Providence in an effort to introduce Bahamian students to the game of American football. Within a span of four years, the Bahamas Bowl has pumped over $23,000,000 into the Bahamian economy and even convinced the Bahamian Minister of Education to introduce TackleBar Football into schools on a trial basis.
Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl: Florida Gators vs. Michigan Wolverines
Making an impact on the community is important, but another reward of the bowl experience is player hospitality events.
The Gators and Wolverines enjoyed competition outside of this past weekend’s Peach Bowl in the event’s Battle of Bowl Week, featuring go-kart racing, a basketball challenge and other events designed for players to have fun.
“We think of it as a reward for the players,” said Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl President and CEO Gary Stokan. “They’re the ones preparing through the winter, spring, summer, and then playing in the fall. They deserve to be treated first-class. We have a theme we use: live, laugh and learn.”
Players also squared off at the Andretti Indoor Karting facility with high-speed super carts and then in a basketball challenge at the team hotel.
“(Entering the week), we (set) a competition every night for the belt, and whoever won the cumulative rankings got the belt to take home with them,” Stokan said. “We’ve seen that belt in a lot of different places. The guys really get into the Battle for Bowl Week belt.”
In addition to competing, Stokan and the Peach Bowl committee also placed a high value on providing an educational experience as well.
“We wanted them to learn,” Stokan said. “We had Congressman (John) Lewis and Andy Young and C.T. Vivian, who are three of the top eight people in Dr. King’s Civil Rights movement. They talked about leadership. We did it in Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King spoke. And we had both teams sit together, which is a no-no in the bowl business. So it’s a living history lesson.”
While the Peach Bowl offered one of the highly anticipated, marquee matchups this season, the impact of the bowl experience was felt far beyond the playing field.
RedBox Bowl: Michigan State Spartans vs. Oregon Ducks
Not to be overshadowed by this year’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game, the San Francisco Bay Area is also host to an annual bowl game. After four previous name changes since the game’s inception in 2002, the Bay Area’s college football bowl game was renamed the Redbox Bowl earlier this year following a multi-year deal with the new-release movie and video-game rental company.
“The Redbox Bowl is thrilled to welcome two storied college football brands with shared history like Oregon and Michigan State to play in front of a primetime national audience at Levi’s Stadium,” said Ryan Oppelt, executive director of the RedBox Bowl and director of the Bay Area Host Committee. “The Ducks and Spartans have large alumni contingents in the Bay Area, so we couldn’t ask for a better way to kick off an incredible week of postseason football.”
Players attended a premiere matchup this week at Oracle Arena between the Golden State Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers. Several Michigan State players were welcomed by Spartans alumnus and current Warriors star Draymond Green after the game.
Student-athletes were also given a tour of the world famous Alcatraz Prison on Alcatraz Island. Outside of sightseeing, both Oregon and Michigan State players volunteered to help those in need at GLIDE and St. Anthony’s in San Francisco ahead of Monday afternoon’s tilt.
As you can see through just a small handful of examples, bowl games provide not only an experience for players and coaches, but also are an avenue for impact on the host cities, local communities, and even countries that participate. The level of responsibility for sports commissions and planning committees is high, but the outcomes can create memories far beyond the game.