An underwhelming BCS inspired sentiment for serious reform. This wind of change may not restrict itself to the upper tier. CBS’ Brett McMurphy is reporting there is “growing support” among the sport’s powerful for a dramatic reduction of the bowl season, raising the entry barrier to seven wins and, as a consequence, eliminating five to 12 bowl games. Fourteen six-win teams appeared in bowls during the last cycle, 13 in 2010.
As with the BCS, the impetus is TV ratings. The 2011-12 cycle dropped eight percent from last year and earned the lowest average rating of the BCS era. Twenty-one of the 34 games saw a decline, 11 by more than 20 percent. Average bowl ratings have fallen 37 percent since 1998, when there were 21 bowl games. The postseason exhibitions have passed the saturation point.
ESPN, the driving force behind bowl expansion, might support this postseason consolidation. A broad ratings shrink obviously hurts the network. The seven bowl games owned and operated by ESPN Plus were among the worst performing. Five of the seven saw a decrease, four by 23 percent or more. The Armed Forces bowl did increase by 8 percent, but was also the second lowest-rated bowl game.
BBVA Compass: SMU vs. Pittsburgh, [-32 percent, 1.49]
New Mexico: Temple vs. Wyoming [-15 percent, 1.54]
Beef O’Brady’s: FIU vs. Marshall [-23 percent, 1.52]
Las Vegas: Arizona State vs. Boise State [-37 percent, 2.05]
Hawaii: Nevada vs. Southern Miss [-32 percent, 1.44]
Armed Forces: BYU vs. Tulsa [+8 percent, 1.43]
Meineke Car Care: Texas A&M vs. Northwestern [+2 percent, 2.69]
Cutting the number of games, and subpar teams in those games would be beneficial. Sixty-eight entrants engenders an “everyone gets a trophy” feel. “Reaching a bowl is hardly a marker of success when 10/12 Big Ten teams make it. It cheapens the postseason by making it “less special.” It also cheapens the regular season with teams scheduling to hit the six-win barrier. Beating an FCS team, three overmatched FBS team and going 2-6 in your conference is not a commendable achievement.
Beyond that, we would adjust the games’ scheduling, clustering the games together and consolidating them within the expected Christmas through New Years period.
Clustering The Games: College (and NFL) football occur, for the most part, one day a week. There’s a cycle of scarcity, buildup and fulfillment that becomes routine. Fans are primed and, by Saturday, ready to find football, any football. This cycle breaks down during bowl season. Instead of the Pavlovian Saturday/Football response, it is consciously deciding whether to watch a specific game, often in conflict with other activities. There’s no hype. There’s no anticipation. The football must stand up on its own merits. A cluster of 4-5 games per day with time would feel more like a Saturday, or New Years Day.
Bowl Week: Schedule as many games as possible between Christmas and New Years. That’s when fans are home and expect to watch bowl games. It’s not a shocker that those ESPN games don’t do well when scheduled on Dec. 17 (New Mexico), Dec. 20 (Beef O’Brady’s), Dec. 22 (Las Vegas) and Jan. 7 (BBVA Compass). The casual audience doesn’t expect bowl games to be played on those dates. The invested audience is either unenthused or fatigued after having mediocre football, every day for a month.
Reduce the number of games to about 25. Take a lesson from your own sport. Schedule the weaker matchups in a first wave (8-10 games between Dec. 24 and Dec. 26) and the stronger matchups in a second wave (10-12 games between Dec. 30-Jan. 1). Let the Cotton Bowl and others stand alone if they wish. This should be more compelling and earn better ratings. Bowls would have to share the spotlight, but they would have a spotlight to share.
[Photo via Getty]