No Playoff, More Bowl Games – Where’s the Logic?

Last week’s meeting of the minds between the 11 NCAA Division 1-A football commissioners, and Notre Dame’s AD Kevin White, ended with no changes to the flawed system for determining college football’s national champion. The consensus is, well, there is no consensus on how to do it. The sport continues to thrive, two distinct television contracts exist for the bowl games, further complicating any changes, and two current commissioners are staunch opponents. Though I disagree, and strongly feel the NCAA would reap tremendous monetary and popularity benefits from a playoff, or plus-one system, enough roadblocks exist to understand why now is not the best time.

Yet, at these same meetings, the NCAA approved two more bowl games, the Congressional Bowl in Washington D.C., and the St. Petersburg Bowl in Tampa, increasing the bowl slate to 34 games. This is the last thing college football needs, more bowl games. The system is already flawed. Too many games, too many undeserving teams, empty stadiums, low television ratings.

Critics brutalize the NBA and NHL for devaluing the season because too many teams make the playoffs. However, approximately 50% of each league qualifies for the playoffs, while over 56% of Division 1 football programs will play in bowl games next season. The regular season remains relevant and exciting because one loss by a championship contender can end their season, but how many teams does that effect the last 4 weeks of the season, ten maybe? Earning a bowl berth should mean something, a reward for a good season. If more than half the teams get one, some with a mediocre 6-6 record, it becomes more of a participation trophy, less an achievement.

BCS bowl games and other major bowls are big business, for the bowls, the cities, and the schools, but smaller bowl games may lose money. Attendance, regardless of the paid attendance number listed, is poor. Watch that Meineke Bowl or the Papajohns.com Bowl, half the seats are empty. It’s more of a friends and family gathering. What’s the appeal of these games?

The new Congressional Bowl pits Navy against the ninth-place ACC team – ninth-place! Who wants to see a team that finished near the bottom of the conference play almost two full weeks before New Years Day, when interest peaks, when the game means absolutely nothing. Bowls need more than students and alumni to support the game. 6-6 seasons don’t warrant rewards.

ESPN does a great job of covering every bowl under the sun, however the ratings for the early bowl games are terrible. The hype is not there, they compete with Christmas and the NFL for eyeballs, and the draw, the appeal, does not exist. College football owns New Years Day, always has, people want college football on New Years. ESPN has done a solid job drumming up interest for its Bowl Week leading into New Years, but those games played before and around December 25th are a stretch. Even during bowl week, few fans will tune in to catch a mid-week afternoon tilt between two schools that had mediocre seasons, and likely lack star appeal. Eventually, I envision ESPN shifting low-end bowl programming to its digital platform.

College football stands to benefit more from improving the BCS system than adding low-end, minimal interest bowl games, watering down the brand further. They did reject a possible 35th bowl in Utah, but how long until that resurfaces. What will happen first, a true college football champion, or a sub-500 team playing in a bowl game?

121, 56%

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