Mediocrity Bowl Games
Do Too Many Bowl Games Reward Mediocrity
December 18. 2012
Over the last few years the critics of the football bowl games have consistently harped on two issues: 1) the inherent unfairness of both access to the bowl games and the revenue share that favors BCS conferences; and 2) the amount of money being left on the table by not having a BCS playoff system. Both of these criticisms are justifiable and may very well carry the day in moving toward a playoff because of antitrust concerns and the need to maximize revenue. However, there is another argument that needs to be considered and that is the simple fact that at least 21 bowl games involve football teams that have mediocre records, which begs the question of why average teams are being rewarded with postseason play?
Of the 70 teams playing in the 35 bowl games only 28 of those teams had won 9 or more games prior to their bowl appearance. Winning 75% of your games (9-3) seems to be a reasonable standard to meet in order to justify a postseason appearance based on having a successful season. This standard suggests that only 14 bowl games deserve to be played. Therefore, based on this season’s records, 21 of the bowl games are simply rewarding mediocre football teams with a postseason trip. Sophisticated fans understand this fact, which helps explain both poor ticket sales and attendance for many bowl games, and poor television ratings as well. Believe it or not this year 14 schools will play in a bowl game after finishing 6-6; and, remember in many cases one of those wins came against an FCS school.
In a pattern reminiscent of recent years many schools around the country are having trouble selling out their ticket requirements. This dilemma results in universities having to pay six or seven figures for the privilege of sending the football team to a bowl game that is poorly attended and poorly viewed on television.
A recent Bloomberg.com article had an insightful quote: “Bowls have become network-owned, commercial enterprises, in some cases, pitting average teams in money-losing bowls for the benefit of a few,” said Charles E. Young, president emeritus at the University of Florida and a member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. “I think the losses are higher than anyone knows.”
Over time the historic relationships with the established and largely commercially successful bowl games have given rise to economic endeavors by visitor and convention bureaus to attract economic activity and the need of networks to find sports content for programming purposes. These twin factors have taken a previously limited number of successful bowl games and attempted to stretch the concept to the position we find ourselves in now. When you add compensation packages for coaches, athletic directors and commissioners that reward bowl appearances you have created the type of conflict of interest that may lead to bad decision making.
The weight of the current bowl product in the marketplace is starting to foment change. As the case for change builds over time, universities should not forget that as educational institutions they should be teaching lessons about demanding excellence and not accepting or rewarding mediocrity from their students, student-athletes and teams. A good place to start would be to rid post season football of undeserving teams because it is sending the wrong message, and people are starting to notice.
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