What are Bowls and How Many Are There?


There is almost no one on earth that hasn’t heard of the ‘Super Bowl’ at some point in their lives, and it’s actually impossible to miss. The TV coverage is enormous, and the commercials are hilarious, but what are bowl games? If you don’t pay much attention to American football, then you might not know that there are several other types of bowl games, from the Rose Bowl to the Super Bowl, and beyond. Let’s talk a bit about what a bowl game is, and what it means for the NFL.

What is a Bowl Game?

In North America, the term ‘bowl game’ refers to a post-season college football game (apart from the Super Bowl which is played in the NFL). The teams involved are those belonging to the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision. Before 2002, bowl game statistics were never included in a player’s career stats, and they were typically thought to be exhibition games. This, however, was at some point considered to be unfair, and now, bowl game participation is recorded in career totals.

The number of bowl games has risen in recent years, eventually comprising 40 different games. Though it will drop to 39 in the 2017-2018 season, the increase in recent years still calls for stricter admittance rules, leading to serious competition over the 78 bowl slots.

Where did the Name Come From?

The name ‘bowl’ comes from the ‘Rose Bowl Stadium’, which happened to be the original site of first post-season college football games. Since using its namesake to create a tradition, several other bowl games have emerged including”

  • Egg Bowl – Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. Ole Miss Rebels
  • Iron Bowl – Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Auburn Tigers

In the Post Season

In order for a team to be invited to participate in a post-season bowl, they must have a six-game win, and they cannot have a losing record throughout the course of the season. This ensures that the best teams are pitted amongst themselves to create a more interesting competition.

College Bowls

Going to the lower college level, teams participate in playoff tournaments, known as a national championship game. Played at a neutral site, these invitational bowl games are far less popular than those in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Special Games

There are several bowl games that are not part of the post-season, played against rival schools. Some of these include:

  • Iron Bowl
  • Egg Bowl
  • Steel Bowl

The Super Bowl itself is the NFL’s championship game, and it was originally called the ‘world championship‘.

The Super Bowl occurs right after the regular season, where the NFL schedule moves into the playoffs, ultimately leading to the Bowl itself. To put it simply, the 256 regular season games are designed to determine which teams are good, and which ones are not Super Bowl material.

All in all, 12 teams will qualify for a shot at the Super Bowl, an event that puts the AFC champion against the NFC. At the end of the day, six teams from each conference will be able to qualify for the playoffs, joined by wildcard teams that have qualified based on win-loss records.

The complex rules culminate in what is considered to be one of the most highly televised and publicized events of all time, and it’s probably what you’ll be watching this year. So, as you can see, games definitely aren’t random – they’re all leading up to the various bowl games, and of course, the Super Bowl, which is why you’re going to be stocking up on party supplies.


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