Missed practices hurt non-bowlers
College football teams not playing in bowl games will miss out on more than their players receiving a free video game system or shopping spree at an electronics store.
Teams like California, Cincinnati, Rutgers and Texas, which will not go bowling after disappointing seasons, also will miss national exposure, valuable practice time and a chance to sell their programs to potential recruits.
"Number one, it really hurts the development of your young players," said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, whose Scarlet Knights finished 4-8 after playing in five straight bowl games in 2005-09. "You are looking at 10 to 15 practices that we miss out on."
It's probably no coincidence that all but 19 of the 70 FBS teams playing in bowl games in 2010 appeared in the postseason last year. Many coaches believe bowl practices are a spring board to next season, because they get to spend so much time developing younger players who don't get nearly as many reps during the regular season.
"It's kind of like the high school football playoffs, when the varsity teams get to bring up the freshmen and sophomores and see what they can do," said Toledo coach Tim Beckman, who guided the Rockets to their first bowl game since 2005, against Florida International in the Dec. 26 Little Caesar's Bowl in Detroit. "All these teams that are playing in bowl games seem to be the same ones every year."
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said the additional practice time will be invaluable for his team's younger players. If the Volunteers hadn't won their final four games to finish 6-6, they'd be sitting at home instead of preparing to play North Carolina in the Dec. 30 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in Nashville.
The NCAA allows teams to have 15 additional practices before playing in a bowl game.
"It really benefits us because a lot of our young guys didn't start coming on until the fourth, fifth or sixth game," Dooley said. "A lot of these young guys didn't get the benefits of the first two weeks of training camp [in August] because they were just swimming. It's hard to stress bare-bone fundamentals when you're preparing for games during the season."
Teams which don't play in bowl games won't practice again until the spring.
"Having the extra practice time and being able to develop the younger players is a great help," said San Diego State coach Brady Hoke, who guided the Aztecs to their first bowl game since 1998, against Navy in the Dec. 23 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.
During the first week of bowl practices, Hoke said his team's freshmen who redshirted this season or played sparingly in regular-season games got as many as 45 snaps per practice, including full-contact scrimmages.
Teams like California and Texas won't get to evaluate their younger players until next spring.
"It gives you a better feel for where you're at with younger kids," Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said. "You can put the younger kids in more intense situations and see how they react and how far you can take them. As you're evaluating them, you're asking yourself if you can rely on him or do you need to find someone else at that position. If a kid emerges, you're set at that position so you can go recruit a kid for another position."
Teams that don't make the postseason also lose a recruiting advantage -- having potential recruits attend bowl practices.
"It's better for recruiting because the kids can watch practices," Marrone said. "They can see who they're going up against and how hard they'll have to work to become a successful college football player, which I think is important for high school players."
Beckman said the extra practice time has allowed the Rockets to host nearly 32 high school recruits and dozens of high school coaches on campus while they've prepared to play in the Little Caesar's Bowl.
"It's been crucial because the last two weeks, we've been able to bring recruits in and take them into a new indoor facility," Beckman said. "When these kids get on campus, they get to see our kids practicing."
Teams not playing in bowl games also have to fight a perception that their program is slipping behind others.
"I think kids want to go to programs that show progress," Hoke said. "Kids want to go to programs that go to bowl games and win championships. I think it makes a difference with kids."
Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. He co-authored Bobby Bowden's memoir, "Called To Coach," which was published by Simon & Schuster. The book is available in stores and can be ordered here. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.