Alex Roux, editor, January 2, 2017

Bowl games get a lot of criticism these days.


We hear that there's too many of them, that many of their crowds are outnumbered by the high school game across town and that they mean so little in the grand scheme of things that some NFL-bound players are skipping them anyway.

There is one real benefit that doesn't involve sponsors, financial boons for schools or extra practice time and recruiting clout for coaches: It's the excellent charitable opportunities that the entire bowl experiences provide.

With teams generally arriving at least several days in advance of their games, there's plenty of downtime for programs to take in the local sights and sounds. Many take the immersion a step further by aligning with local charitable causes in the host cities.

Big Ten teams have very active in this area.

Just this past week, Maryland players and coaches donated some of their time to a food bank in the Detroit area before the Quick Lane Bowl. Indiana served holiday meals at a Bay Area homeless shelter prior to the Foster Farms Bowl.

And then there's the hospital visits.

By briefly brightening the days of sick children, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin all created the type of experiences that personally tug at the heartstrings as the footage finds its way to social media. These gestures are repeated every year across all sports because they truly have a meaningful impact on everyone involved.

And that's why they'll never get old.

The sick kids at Tampa General Hospital may not be Iowa Hawkeye football fans before that visit, but surely many will be afterward. The kids hung out with college football players for a little while Thursday when the Iowa Hawkeyes and Florida Gators visited.

You can always see the boost these visits provide in the kids' reactions.

Wisconsin had a similarly positive impact at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas before the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2.

Is it good public relations? Sure. But there are no losers when athletes visit sick kids, as everyone gets a heartwarming story to tell. Watch Michigan QB John O'Korn and his teammates tell Larry Prout Jr. — a 15-year-old fan and honorary Wolverine with spina bifida who has undergone more than 90 surgeries in his life — that he'll be joining the team in Miami at the Orange Bowl on Michigan's dime.



The players really enjoy it, and it clearly means the world to Prout.

Bowl cynics will always be around. But we should also acknowledge the unique opportunities these trips provide – for the communities and the players. Just remember that these kinds of uplifting stories are happening all across college football, and we like seeing them each year.