Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bowl eligibility standard may be increasing (but beware fuzzy math)

image The college football postseason landscape may consist of a somewhat smaller territory if the powers that be increase the bowl eligibility threshold to seven games. CBS’ Brett McMurphy says such a measure enjoys strong support. If passed, a likely result is that some smaller bowls go dark, as there won’t be enough 7-5 or better teams at the end of the season to fill all of the existing available slots.

Currently, there are 35 bowls available for Football Bowl Subdivision programs. Following the 2011 regular season, a total of 13 teams entered post-season play at 6-6, meaning six bowls would likely not have had teams to fill their slots (the seventh could have selected 7-5 Western Kentucky at-large).

The discussion over which bowls to eliminate figures to be as calm and collegial as the negotiations in a Hollywood divorce.

Don’t expect any significant reduction in the number of bowls in the next few years. Conferences have contractual arrangements with bowl games to provide teams. Bowls have contractual arrangements with sponsors, local governments and area business stakeholders. The conferences and the bowls have contractual arrangements with broadcasters. Don’t expect any of these complicated arrangements to be torn up as soon as the NCAA membership votes to change eligibility.

ESPN owns and operates seven bowls: The Meineke Car Car Bowl, the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, the Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl, the Maaco Bowl, the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl, the New Mexico Bowl and the BBVA Compass Bowl. Four of the teams hosted in those bowls came in with 6-6 records.

Considering the amount of influence that organization wields over college sports in general and football in particular, seeing how many ESPN bowls are eliminated versus independents like the GoDaddy.com or Independence Bowls will be interesting, especially as ESPN decides which bowls it wants to broadcast.

Resist the argument that declining average bowl attendance means that fans aren’t interested in the current college football postseason. It’s simply not true and no fuzzy math manipulation of the data can hide the fact that the long term trend of bowl attendance is up, not down. Fans still love college football. They’ll still watch and if they can afford it, they’ll travel to support their team. If some want to argue that the bowl market is saturated, go right ahead. Increasing eligibility standards and cutting production is what industries do when they’ve fully saturated a market and the last increments added are less than productive.

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