Friday, January 27, 2012

The impending end of crappy bowl games

I wrote a couple weeks ago about the pathetic state of attendance/ratings for the BCS games and how that (and that alone) has led to the seemingly implausible situation in which basically everybody of importance has agreed that there'll be some sort of playoff starting in 2014. In summary: The few people in power who were benefiting financially are no longer doing so and thus have no reason to stop the thing everybody else wants, which is a playoff.

The attendance/ratings thing apparently goes for more than just the BCS games:
There is "growing support" among conference commissioners, athletic directors and bowl officials to increase the difficulty of becoming bowl eligible by requiring teams to have seven victories, or a winning record, when the new BCS cycle begins in 2014, multiple sources have told The seven-win requirement would also mean a handful of bowls likely would be discontinued because there would not be enough eligible teams to fill all of the current 70 berths.
This is not surprising in the slightest except inasmuch as the conferences are not totally against it, which is shocking. I still don't understand why seven bowls were approved for licenses between 2005 and 2010. An aerial shot of any pre-Christmas bowl game looks like it could easily be an aerial shot of a Marlins game in August. Nobody cares about those games because ... I mean ... what's the point of watching one crappy 6-6 team play another crappy 6-6 team in a game that doesn't mean anything?

This guy says it all in one perfect paragraph:
"The 7-5 proposal is getting serious support," a non-BCS bowl official said. "They're telling a coach 6-6 doesn't cut it, but then the coach gets a $50,000 or $100,000 bonus for a bowl game that none of the fan base wants to see. Athletic directors feel like they're pouring money down a hole, and they're getting frustrated with it. The only people making out on 6-6 bowl games are the coaches."
He's only wrong about that last part; the coaches who get a bonus for one 6-6 bowl season are liable to get fired for the next one, so it's a little bit of a stretch to say they're "making out." The people who really benefit are the old guys who make $700,000 a year to hold golf tournaments and shake hands and whatnot while the schools each lose $80,000 to send the football team and the band to Nashville or St. Petersburg (not the one in Russia).

Like I said in my earlier post, bowl games have reached a saturation point in terms of both volume and time. There's only so much interest that can be retained throughout a month of nothing and then refocused on a meaningless game against Disappointing School B. Another good quote:
"You're asking people to come across the country to watch mediocre teams," a BCS bowl official said. "They're not going to do it."
I'm not sure why it took so long to figure this out. I guess people were going across the country to watch mediocre teams (enough that those mediocre bowls were making money, anyway).

There are currently 35 bowl games. In the past two years, 27 teams that finished 6-6 or worse were yoinked up into one of them to fill an open spot because there weren't enough teams (at least not in the right conferences) with winning records. Average it out and you get about 14 teams a year, which means the seven worst games would cease to exist if those teams were postseason-ineligible. Despite my must-be-quenched thirst for MOAR FOOTBALL, this would not be a bad thing.

But it's not quite that simple since the 6-6 teams don't all get filtered into the seven crappiest games against each other and the Independence Bowl probably doesn't wanna lose a 6-6 Tennessee/Mississippi State/whoever in favor of a 7-5 Wyoming. There are obviously more than seven games that would be affected. The apparent solution: KILL THEM ALL.
If the winning record requirement did pass, bowl sources estimated up to 12 of the current 35 bowls could be "lopped off."
Wow. That's kind of a lot of lopping. The key phrase there, though, is "could be" since this isn't an entirely unilateral decision. ESPN operates seven bowl games, including the New Mexico Bowl, which had at least one 6-6 team every year until the last one. ESPN has a lot of pull; I'm skeptical that 12 games are just gonna go away quietly to the detriment of the people who are still trying to squeeze money out of them. In reality, it's more likely that seven-ish get eliminated and the others are left to either wiggle out of their conference contracts or GTFO on their own.

In case you're wondering which games are really irrelevant, SB Nation put together a handy-dandy chart:
If we went by 2011 attendance, we'd be out the following:

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: 29,878
BBVA Compass Bowl: 29,726
Idaho Potato Bowl: 28,076
New Mexico Bowl: 25,762
Military Bowl: 25,042
Poinsettia Bowl: 24,607
Beef ‘O' Brady's Bowl: 20,072

TV ratings, which can't be fudged by the games themselves:

Independence: 1.53
Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl: 1.52
Military Bowl: 1.5
BBVA Compass Bowl: 1.49
Hawaii Bowl: 1.44
Armed Forces Bowl: 1.43
GoDaddy Bowl: 1.24
So there ya go. The BBVA Compass Bowl is clearly taking advantage of that exclusive January 7 timeslot.

Exactly how much all of this would improve the bowl system as a whole is debatable. The real problem with the bowls (as pointed out by Brian at MGoBlog earlier this week) is that ticket/hotel guarantees remove all financial risk from the games themselves and instead require the schools to lose money unless they sell a bajillion tickets. Hacking out the crappy bowl games wouldn't change that; it would, however, remove of a bunch of disinterested fan bases from the equation and represent a reversion to the days when getting to a bowl was something of an accomplishment, which in turn would generate more excitement for the games that do exist (thus more ticket sales and hypothetically better ratings).

It's definitely a step in the right direction, by which I mean a step away from Kraft Fight Hunger Bowls that feature UCLA and Illinois and 60 minutes of unwatchable football.


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