Football and Christmas? In Hawaii?

By ZACH GILLELAND

Sports Reporter

@_zachariahg

OPINION – This holiday season, the gift of football keeps on giving.

Although the college football regular season has wrapped up, 78 teams will play in a bowl game, a reward for the team’s success on the field. To play in a bowl game, a team must become bowl eligible, winning usually six or more games in the season.

For teams that did not make the playoff, a bowl game offers nothing more than an exhibition, a game played for school pride and for the athletic department to receive a big payout.

Some games offer pristine destinations, such as Miami, New Orleans, New York and even the Bahamas, while some teams will have the luxury of playing in other destinations, such the Famous Idaho Potatoes Bowl in Boise, Id.

But there is one game that just does not make sense—the Hawaii Bowl. Played at the longtime site of the NFL Pro Bowl and the home of the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors in Aloha Stadium, the Hawaii Bowl is usually played on Christmas Eve.

After spending my Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house, I would arrive home around midnight. As I turned on my TV to ESPN to catch up on the sports I had missed, I found it odd that there was football on.

At this point, boys and girls across the world had gone to bed in hopes of a visit of Santa Claus. Surely not many people will be watching a game that ends after midnight?

And not many people attend the game either.

During the 2015 Hawaii Bowl, 22,793 people, roughly 45 percent of the stadium’s capacity, watched San Diego State destroy the Cincinnati Bearcats 42-7. Last season even less people, 20,327, watched as the hometown Rainbow Warriors defeated Middle Tennessee State 52-35.

Maybe the low turnout has to do with the date, as Christmas Eve does not often offer an open schedule to many. Or maybe fans of teams in the game have a hard time financing a trip to Hawaii for a few days to see their favorite school play.

Played in a city with a metropolitan area of nearly 1 million people, it is not like the game is small market. But at the same time it may be difficult to convince someone that does not have ties to either school to spend three hours at a game during Christmas Eve.

The Hawaii Bowl guarantees a bid to only one team, the resident Rainbow Warriors. The game has conference tie-ins to the Mountain West and the Conference USA, meaning on years that Hawaii is not bowl eligible, more and more friends and family will fly across the Pacific.

Playing on Christmas Eve ensures that both schools will have to spend their Christmas in Hawaii. Do not get me wrong, Christmas in Hawaii sounds great, but at the same time nothing beats waking up early in the morning to find presents underneath the tree.

As scholarship student-athletes, the school pays for the players’ hotel and airfare. Friends and family however, have to pay their own way. A plane ticket to Hawaii, plus hotel, cab and food are not cheap, and it would not be hard to believe to say some families could not afford to watch their child play.

And if Christmas is a time for families to get together, why make it harder for them?

I may sound like a cynic, but I love bowl games. It offers a chance for small teams to receive much needed revenue to help fund their school’s other athletic programs.

The Wyoming Cowboys of the Mountain West Conference, who have played in just 14 bowl games during their 125-year history, received an $810,000 payout after playing in the now-defunct San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl in 2016. Bowl games are vital for the financial success of programs. Hawaii and Middle Tennessee State forked in $650,000 for playing in last season’s game.

But aside from the glamour of the New Year’s Six Bowls, there is not as much interest about the rest of the bowl games, aside from supporters of their individual schools. That does not mean the games do not mean anything, there have been some great games played in the bowls.

I am not saying to remove the game altogether, Hawaii is a beautiful destination that players would love to spend a few days at. I would not blink at an opportunity to spend my time on the beach in December with my friends and family.

But it makes more sense rather to move the game to a new date, giving the players, staff and fans a chance to spend Christmas with their families.

The Hawaii Bowl is fine, but Christmas Eve is not the time.

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