Mailbag: Why So Many Bowl Games? Pac-12 TV and Scheduling Notes

We normally don’t do “mailbag” columns, but after last week’s bowl viewing guide, we received a number of questions about the post-season. They all had a similar theme:

“Why Are There So Many Bowl Games?”

“What’s Driving the Proliferation in Games?”

“Aren’t There Too Many Bowls?”

As many of you know, I worked in the bowl industry for 15 years, and obviously I'm somewhat biased. But here’s the scoop.

Yes, there probably are too many games. But does it really matter?

We have 40 bowls, with more to come, for one simple reason: all the entities involved in the post-season are getting what they want. Let’s break it down.

TV Networks: The TV networks that carry bowl games, primarily Disney-owned ESPN and ABC, are getting good content and good ratings. Bowls—even the lowest-rated ones—attract bigger audiences than anything else the networks could run at the same time.

Fans: College football fans are getting a bunch of (mostly) good games to watch. What would you rather do during the holidays—watch football or fight crowds at shopping malls?

Players: The athletes get to play another game with their teammates, spend a week in (mostly) nice locales, and pick up a package of bowl swag that typically includes things like headphones, backpacks, gift cards, video games, sunglasses and watches.

Coaches: Coaches get additional practice time with their team, especially useful in gaining reps for young players and prepping for next season. And most coaches also pick up a nice bonus for making it to a bowl.

Schools: The participating conferences and schools get a very nice paycheck. You may occasionally read about teams “losing” money by going to a bowl game. Don’t believe it. All 10 conferences share in the $470 million payout from the playoff, regardless of whether they have a participating team, as well as payouts from other bowls, and then distribute those payouts to conference members. After all expenses are paid, schools reap a collective profit in the neighborhood of $500 million.

Sponsors: We joke about the silly names of some of the bowls, but the fact is, sponsors are getting tons of exposure for their investment. Most bowl sponsors receive millions of dollars worth of branding and pay much less for the naming rights.

Cities: Bowl host cities benefit by filling hotel rooms during what normally is a slow time of the year. Estimates vary, but bowls boost tourism and produce several millions of dollars in positive economic impact.

So there you have it. Other than a few unattractive matchups featuring a pair of 6-6 teams, what’s not to like?

Speaking of TV Ratings: Attention Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, ESPN and others who claim that Pac-12 night games provide great exposure and get high ratings because there is less competition than during the afternoon. Please note that of the 10 highest rated Pac-12 games in 2018, none—that’s right, none—were night games.

“Media Executive:” This slipped past me at the time, but in recent interviews, the aforementioned Commissioner Scott has defended his $4.5 million salary (highest among Conference honchos) by saying “it’s in line and reasonable with other media executives.”

Suffice to say that Scott is the only college sports commissioner in history who defines himself as a “media executive.” But if so, I have two questions:

1) since your network is doing so poorly, with only 17 million viewers, test pattern ratings, and disappointing revenues, aren't you grossly overpaid?

2) if you’re a media executive, how does that jibe with the concept of amateur athletics and the mission of higher education?

Just askin’.

Scheduling Masochism: Bleacher Report ranks Stanford’s 2019 football schedule as the toughest in the nation. And it’s hard to argue. The Cardinal’s non-conference opponents include two of the nation’s three unbeaten teams from 2018—Notre Dame and UCF (Central Florida)—as well as Big Ten Division champion Northwestern.

Couple that with a nine-game conference schedule that includes home games against defending Pac-12 champ Washington, always-tough Oregon, on-the-rise California, and a UCLA team that finished strong, plus road games at Washington State and USC, and you’ve got…well…the toughest schedule in the country.

In fact, the recent release of the 2019 Pac-12 schedule led the always entertaining TMG columnist Chris Dufresne (formerly of the Los Angeles Times) to write: “Pac-12 Already Eliminated from Next Year’s College Football Playoff.”

Chris was being facetious, to a point. USC and UCLA have non-conference schedules almost as tough as Stanford’s. The Trojans play Notre Dame, Fresno State (which won 12 games this year) and BYU, while the Bruins have Oklahoma, Cincinnati and San Diego State. Oregon plays Auburn. On the other side of the coin, Washington has Eastern Washington and Hawaii, which means it will have to go 13-0 to get in.

As we’ve written many times, as long as the Pac-12 plays nine conference games while the SEC and ACC play eight, and as long as Pac-12 teams schedule Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Auburn, while Alabama and Clemson are playing Western Carolina and Wofford (no joke), it’s going to be very difficult to get a team in.

So it bears repeating. All conferences need to play nine conference games. Non-conference schedules should have certain minimum standards. And the playoffs should be expanded to eight teams.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//gacavalli49@gmail.com

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