Tracking the Growth in College Football Bowl Games

By Amy Daughters -

How in the world did college football get to 40-plus bowl games?

Instead of rewarding teams that struggle to reach .500, isn’t the postseason meant to celebrate the best-of-the best?

Take a look at the history of bowl games in major college football, a number that grew from one in 1901 to five in 1940, eight in 1950 and 1960, 11 in 1970, 15 in 1980, 19 in 1990, 25 in 2000, 35 in 2010 and now, perhaps, 43 in 2015.

It’s no coincidence that the sharpest growth spikes occurred during the BCS era (1998-2013) and then now, the dawning of the CFB Playoff era.

Big money changes everything.


Bowl Games in 1901: 1

Bowl Games in 1929: 1

The Rose Bowl kicked off after the 1901 season with Michigan pounding Stanford 49-0 and then took a 13-year break until 1915, when it began its annually played event.

Other than the Rose, four other bowls made brief appearances prior to 1930: The Fort Worth Classic (1920), the San Diego Classic (1921 and 1922), the Dixie Classic (played in Dallas in 1921 and 1924) and the Los Angeles Christmas Festival (1924).


Bowl Games in 1930: 1

Bowl Games in 1939: 5

The 1930s birthed four bowl games that still exist today: The Orange (Miami) and Sugar (New Orleans) both kicked off in 1934, the Sun (El Paso, Texas) was added in 1935 and the Cotton (Dallas) debuted in 1936.

Other than that, the Dixie Classic resurfaced in 1933 and the Bacardi Bowl made its only mark as a major bowl in 1937. The Bacardi was played in Havana, Cuba and the ’37 edition featured Auburn-Villanova in a 7-7 tie.


Bowl Games in 1940: 5

Bowl Games in 1949: 9

The only lasting addition in the 1940s was the Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, Fla.), which cranked up just as WWII was wrapping up in 1945.

Other bowls of the era were: The Raisin (1945-49 in Fresno, Calif.), the Oil (the 1945 and 1946 games in Houston are considered major bowls), the Great Lakes (1947 and 1948 in Cleveland), the Shrine (1948 in Little Rock, Ark.), the Salad (the 1948-51 games in Phoenix are considered major bowls), the Harbor (1947-49 in San Diego), the Delta (1947 and 1948 in Memphis), and the Dixie (Bowl, not Classic in 1947 and 1948 in Birmingham, Ala.).

Two one-time bowls were also played under names that have since resurfaced: The Alamo (1946 in San Antonio, Texas) and the Camellia (1948 in Lafayette, La.).


Bowl Games in 1950: 8

Bowl Games in 1959: 8

The two additions with staying power in the 50s were the Liberty (played in Philadelphia from 1959-63 and Atlantic City, N.J. in 1964 before moving to Memphis in 1965) and Bluebonnet (Houston) bowls, both kicking off long runs in 1959.

The only other games during this decade, other than the final two Salads (1950 and 1951), were one-hit wonders the Presidential Cup (played in College Park, Md. in 1950) and the Bluegrass (played in Louisville, Ky. in 1958).


Bowl Games in 1960: 8

Bowl Games in 1969: 11

Joining the Rose, Orange, Sugar, Sun, Cotton, Gator, Liberty and Bluebonnet in the 60s were the Peach (Atlanta), Tangerine (Orlando, Fla.) and Pasadena bowls, all debuting up in 1968.

The Pasadena was originally called the “Junior Rose Bowl”, but only played once under that name, in 1967, when West Texas State (now West Texas A&M) bested Cal State-Northridge.

Other fixtures during the decade were: The Gotham (played in New York City in 1961 and 1962), the Mercy (played in Los Angeles in 1961) and the Aviation (played in Dayton, Ohio in 1961).


Bowl Games in 1970: 11

Bowl Games in 1979: 15

The net effect of the 1970s was the end of the Pasadena Bowl—which called it quits after 1971—and the introduction of the Fiesta (1971 in Tempe, Ariz.), the Independence (1976 in Shreveport, La.), the Hall of Fame Classic (1977 in Birmingham, Ala.), the Garden State (1978 in East Rutherford, N.J.) and the Holiday (1978 in San Diego).


Bowl Games in 1980: 15

Bowl Games in 1989: 18

The 1980s signaled the end of the Garden State (1981) and the Bluebonnet (1987). Additions were the California (1981 in Fresno, Calif.), the Aloha (1982 in Honolulu), the Freedom (1984 in Anaheim, Calif.), the Hall of Fame Bowl (a separate game from the Hall of Fame Classic, in 1986 in Tampa, Fla.), and the Copper (1989 in Tucson, Ariz.), all which lasted at least until the end of the decade.

The only introduction that didn’t make it was the short-lived Cherry Bowl (1984 and 1985 in Pontiac, Mich.).

Also of note were two significant name changes: The Tangerine changed to the Florida Citrus in 1983 and the Hall of Fame Classic switched to the All-American Bowl in 1985.


Bowl Games in 1990: 19

Bowl Games in 1999: 23

The 90s ushered in the era of the Blockbuster (1990 in Miami, moved to Orlando as the Tangerine in 2001), the Las Vegas (1992), the Alamo (1993 in San Antonio, Texas), the Motor City (1997 in Pontiac, Mich.), the Oahu Classic (1998 in Honolulu), the Music City (1998 in Nashville), the Humanitarian (1997 in Boise, Idaho) and the Mobile Alabama Bowl (1999).

Gone were the All-American (1990), the California (1991) and the Freedom (1994).

The Blockbuster changed its name to the Car Quest in 1993 and then switched to the Micron PC title in 1997. The Hall of Fame Bowl changed to the Outback in 1995 and the Copper became the Bowl in 1997.


Bowl Games in 2000: 25

Bowl Games in 2009: 34

The first decade of the new millennium witnessed the biggest growth in bowl games: The New Orleans (2001), the Hawaii (2002), the Continental Tire (2002 in Charlotte, N.C.), the San Francisco (2002), the Fort Worth (2003), the Poinsettia (2005 in San Diego), the New Mexico (2006 in Albuquerque), the Papa John’s (2006 in Birmingham, Ala.), the Texas (2006 in Houston), the Saint Petersburg (2008) and the Eagle Bank (2008 in Washington D.C.).

Also on deck for the first time was the stand-alone BCS Championship Game, which became a reality in 2006.

Bowls that came and went were the Gallery Furniture (2000 and 2001 in Houston), the Silicon Valley Classic (2000-2004 in San Jose, Calif.), the Seattle (2001-02), the Houston (2002-2005), and the International (2006-09 in Toronto, Canada).

Gone for good were the Aloha and Oahu, both which left the scene in 2000.

The 2000s also bore witness to an alarming number of name changes, a result of sponsors taking full title rights as opposed to just contributing to a long-standing bowl title.

In 2001, the Micron PC Bowl transformed into the new Tangerine Bowl before settling on the Champs Sports name in 2004. The Mobile Alabama Bowl also changed its name to the GMAC Bowl in 2001.

The Florida Citrus became the Capital One in 2002, the San Francisco morphed into the Emerald in 2004, the Continental Tire became the Meineke Car Care in 2005 and the Fort Worth changed its name to the Armed Forces in 2006.

Then there was the Humanitarian Bowl, a game which became the MPC Computers Bowl in 2004 only to return to its former name in 2008.

That leaves the Motor City, which became the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2009.


Bowl Games in 2010: 35  

Bowl Games in 2014: 39

In just the past four years we’ve added the Pinstripe (2010, New York City), the Ticket City (2010, Dallas), the Camellia (2014, Montgomery, Ala.), the Miami Beach (2014), the Boca Raton (2014), the Bahamas (2014) and the Quick Lane (2014, Detroit).

The Little Caesars was gone after the 2013 season, also the final year of the BCS Championship, making room for the new CFB Playoff National Championship.

Name changes have also continued at a furious pace. In 2010, the GMAC became the GoDaddy, the Papa John’s became the BBVA Compass, the Eagle Bank changed to the Military (and moved to Annapolis, 2013) and the Emerald became the Fight Hunger before changing again, to the Foster Farms in 2014.

In 2011, the Humanitarian became the Idaho Potato and the Texas became the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas only to morph back into the Texas Bowl in 2014. That meant the Meineke Car Care (of Charlotte) switched its name to the Belk Bowl.

In 2012, the Champs Sports became the Russell Athletic and the Bowl morphed into the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl before switching to the Cactus last season. This was also the year the Ticket City became the Heart of Dallas.

That leaves 2014, when the Gator changed its long-standing name to the TaxSlayer, the Capital One went back to its Citrus title and the BBVA Compass rebranded to the Birmingham Bowl.


Projected Bowl Games in 2015: 43

Already on the books for next season is the AutoNation Cure Bowl, slated for Dec. 19 in Orlando. Other than that, Austin, Texas, Tucson, Ariz. and Little Rock, Ark. have all applied to host a bowl game in 2015.

If the total stretches to 43, 84 FBS teams will go bowling next season.

Historical data courtesy of College Football Data Warehouse.

  1. Richard
    April 8, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    just like modern society, everybody gets a trophy. Pathetic.

  2. Dave
    April 8, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    It used to be that bowl games were a reward for a good season. Now they are like getting a trophy for participation in junior soccer without the orange slices at halftime and the gummie bears at the end of the game.

    Best example was Illinois going 3-6 in a weakened Big Ten, beating 3 non P5 teams during the pre-season and then getting their butts kicked by a so-so La. tech team in their bowl game in front of a select few attendees (made up mostly of parents, friends and corporate give away tickets).

    • DJ
      April 8, 2015 at 3:54 pm

      “without the orange slices at halftime and the gummie bears at the end of the game”? Unless your school offers true cost of attendance then they are included.

  3. David
    April 8, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    We need a Bourbon Bowl! :)

  4. Jack
    April 8, 2015 at 10:18 pm

    lets have the committee (that selects the Final 4 + New Years 6) ALSO select the 2 worst teams and have a
    Then we can have teams tank like the NBA :)

  5. paulswaney
    April 9, 2015 at 8:18 am

    I don’t like it. More than 2/3 of all teams will play in a bowl game in 2015. I would much rather see an emphasis on more playoff games (expand to 6, with a plan to expand to 8), and fewer teams making the post season. In fact, you could still have a bunch of bowl games, but once you get over half the teams making the post season, it makes the regular season far less interesting.

    I do think it would be interesting to have someone like Kohler sponsor a Toilet Bowl and pit the two worst teams against each other, that would be kind of funny…

    • Dave
      April 9, 2015 at 10:50 am

      The result being a 0-0 tie, played on a dirt field on a Tuesday morning. The NCAA would then put a positive spin on the results as being an example of great defense.

  6. Kevin Russell
    April 13, 2015 at 9:55 am

    43 Bowls would be 86 teams math whizzes!

  7. Dave
    May 20, 2015 at 9:15 am

    And yet the TV viewership for any bowl game is greater than a Yankee – Sox regualar season baseball game. That is the popularity of college football.

  8. geoff kennedy
    October 9, 2015 at 6:58 am

    The Toilet Bowl should take place at the site of the old Shea Stadium in Flushing, NY.

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