FBS football offers 40 bowl games. This is postseason ad absurdum. It is a veritable epidemic of town-toasting and five-figure bonuses. College football can’t produce enough 5-6 vs. FBS records to fill the current number of games. If not for a moratorium, there would be even more of them.
Bowl games have come under fire this year. Two prominent NFL draft prospects, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffery, decided their mid-level exhibitions weren’t worth risking what could be eight-figure payouts. But, the fire will have a little effect. Growth factors remain extant. If anything, we’re going to get more of them, and it’s not the worst thing ever.
Why do we have so many bowl games? They are ideal for television. Live football, even quite mediocre live football, draws an audience. Ratings may not be great. But, they are greater than whatever non-live football will be shown in its stead.
Each bowl game is an opportunity to sell the remaining bowl games and build toward a marketing crescendo for the College Football Playoff.
Not surprisingly, the prime direct force behind bowl game expansion is ESPN. ESPN televises nearly all the bowl games. ESPN itself operates the Armed Forces Bowl, the Birmingham Bowl, the Bahamas Bowl, the Boca Raton Bowl, the Camellia Bowl, the Potato Bowl, the Hawaii Bowl, the Heart of Dallas Bowl, the Las Vegas Bowl, the New Mexico Bowl, the St. Petersburg Bowl, and the Texas Bowl.
ESPN’s (insert sponsor) Bowl Week has become (insert sponsor) Bowl Mania. Of the 13 bowl games that now occur before Christmas, ESPN runs nine of them.
The playoff will not end the bowls. It keeps them afloat. Sure, it makes bowl games feel less important. The Rose Bowl is now a consolation prize for the Big Ten or Pac 12 champion. The exception is when the Rose Bowl is part of the playoff, in which case it hardly matters whether it is the Rose Bowl.
Using bowls for the playoff is a drop of vermouth. It’s there for tradition and to maintain the pretense you’re not holding a straight-on post-season tournament.
The playoff, however, does much more to shore up the bowl system than to discredit it. The chief argument against bowl games was the cost. Schools were stuck with significant liabilities to play in them, liabilities not covered by the revenue generated. Programs were taking six-, even seven-figure losses to play in the games.
With the playoff expanding postseason revenue multiple times over, that concern has gone away. The wanton graft can proceed guilt-free. Expanding to eight teams will only generate more revenue and provide even better footing.
Sentiment and common sense are not relevant. Unless ratings plummet to the point where schools and networks must have a serious rethink, we’re stuck with the superabundance of bowl games. It’s not perfect, but it’s also not so bad.
College football fans, one presumes, like college football. Having more college football on TV at odd times (and to gamble on in places where that is legal) is not awful. One might stumble onto a compelling contest.
Moreover, a network showing college football is not an affront to you. No one is taking attendance. No one is compelling you to watch New Mexico play UTSA. Cherry pick. Skip all but the most important. Or, just don’t watch.
Those who like bowl games can watch them. Those who don’t like bowl games can not watch them. Anti-bowl zealots can still not watch them. It’s the rare case where the strongest stand is the easiest.