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NEW ORLEANS -- At the main entrance of the Marriott on Canal Street, a big TEXAS in burnt orange lights up a wall.

That's the only real indication that the University of Texas is here for the Sugar Bowl. Oh, and an observant guest noticed there was no access to the second floor, where the ballrooms have been turned into meeting and dining rooms.

A handful of folks brave enough to wear the burnt orange have come early to enjoy the Big Easy before the New Year's Day game. One coach's wife got on the elevator with her three young daughters only to have a jerk who was tired of waiting squeeze into the crowded elevator and almost knock the youngest girl into the wall, separating her from the safety of her mother and causing tears.

The impatient oaf was not apologetic. He just complained more about the elevators, of which all seven were overworked.

On another elevator ride, two couples not in town for either game -- today's Saints game or Tuesday's Sugar Bowl -- guessed the Longhorns were staying there, and one asked out loud, "Who are they playing?"

Georgia, he was told, to which he exclaimed loudly, "That's right."

The point is Texas and Georgia are playing in a once coveted New Year's Day game, but most of the talk around this town Saturday was about Clemson vs. Notre Dame and Alabama vs. Oklahoma.

The College Football Playoff has been that successful, and there is more and more talk about expanding the field to eight teams, but that should be the cap. No more and no less than eight teams and seven games, with the first being played before Christmas.

The question then becomes what happens to the bowls -- too many of which are played before sparse crowds and in places only the most faithful fan would visit, like Montgomery, Ala.

There are 40 bowls this season, mainly because ESPN needs programming and it seems like an easy way for a city to get tourists dollars. If you have a sponsor, a TV agreement (doesn't have to be with ESPN, but that helps) and a conference alignment, you probably have a bowl.

The schools will guarantee the purchase of 12,000 tickets at an average of $100 each, bringing the bowl more than a million bucks before the first sign has been ordered. Then comes the money from the presenting sponsor, other sponsors and corporate America, and a place like Montgomery is in the bowl business.

There are simply too many bowls. Just think, 80 football teams were in postseason action and yet only 68 will make the men's basketball NCAA Tournament. There is nearly three times as many schools with basketball than football.

There is a place for bowls like the Sugar Bowl in the years when it isn't part of the championship rotation, like this year when Georgia plays you-know-who.

But even the most storied bowls are having identity problems when they aren't part of that rotation.

Yes, the Sugar Bowl is sold out. The programs have too much history for their fans not to attend -- and then there's corporate America buying up stacks of tickets -- but that is eventually going to take a hit now that donations to athletic funds are no longer a tax write-off.

The closer the kickoff for the Sugar Bowl gets, there will be more fans who bring excitement to a city that really doesn't need more excitement.

But hearing those words about who plays Texas left a question: What will happen to those really good mid-level bowls when the College Football Playoff does expand to eight teams?

Sports on 12/30/2018

Print Headline: Even the Sugar Bowl faces an identity crisis

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