Bowl Overload

Bowl season brings excitement and anticipation and the same tedious complaint we hear year after year. There are too many bowl games.

I want fewer games to watch. That is such a strange comment from people in the business of reporting on games. It is an even stranger comment from people who claim to enjoy watching games as fans.

For most of history, there were far too few bowl games. It takes little time to recount the misery of 11, 10, and 9 win teams (in 11 game seasons) staying home. I can name the 8 win teams that stayed home while six win teams went. This year a 7-5 is at home while a 6-7 is going.

If the rules are going to permit a 6-7 team to go to post-season and there aren’t enough games to accommodate a 7-5, then there aren’t enough bowl games.

The premise of too many bowl games should be backed up by people tuning out. Bowl games drew only 196 million viewers in 2013 down from a high of 213.5 million in 2010. That’s really not much of a drop spread over 35 games.

If there are too many bowls then there must be games very few people watch. The last two years among games on ABC, CBS, Fox, ESPN, ESPN2 the smallest viewership was 1.1 million viewers. That game was 2012’s Arizona State romp of Navy on ESPN2. That game started 45 minutes after the Syracuse vs. West Virginia Pinstripe Bowl played in a snowstorm that drew 5.1 million viewers (the 11th most watched game of that bowl season).

Schools love bowl games. They like the happy fans, the chance to entertain big boosters, the extra practice and the TV exposure. Bowl games are a big source of exposure for college football teams. Of the 70 bowl teams last year, the bowl game was the most watched TV appearance for 46 of the teams. (full list at the bottom) Of the 24 who had more watched games before bowl season, many were more viewed because they had time slots with little to no competition or were playing a major national opponent.

The idea of too many bowls would lead you to expect that the over-supply would result in games going under. Despite the rapid growth the bowl field has not seen many cities where bowls were a complete failure.

In the past twenty years the number of bowl teams has doubled but only five games have ceased operation. A few have changed location but continue to play, the second game in Miami known by various sponsor names moved to Orlando and became the Russell Athletic Bowl, the Copper Bowl started in Tucson, Arizona and moved to Phoenix and then nearby Tempe and is now the Cactus Bowl. The Aloha Classic moved to Seattle and now to Santa Clara, the game in Honolulu was replaced by the Hawaii Bowl two years after the Aloha moved.

Bowls that have shut down:
Oahu/Seattle Bowl (1998 to 2002) The game moved to Seattle for its final two years and was plagued by financial problems, they met NCAA financial requirements for the last game one hour before the NCAA certification deadline. The game was sold and litigation followed regarding repayment of financial assistance from the Mountain West.

Silicon Valley Classic (2000 to 2004) The game struggled to meet financial requirements but stayed afloat the first four years with Fresno State hosting. The final game pitted Northern Illinois and Troy in San Jose, California on a cold wet night. The game was unable to return for a sixth year. Bowl (2000 to 2001) Houston Bowl (2002 to 2005) another game with financial problems. While it closed up after the 2005 season, the Houston Texans started a “new” game in its place. Under new management the game has done well.

International Bowl (2006 to 2009) the game pitted the MAC vs the Big East and was financially solvent but the Big East did not want to play non-AQ MAC and did not want to deal with the logistical issues of passports and customs and replaced the game with the Pinstripe Bowl. Unable to find an opponent for the MAC, the game closed.

Motor City Bowl (1997 to 2013) The game pitted the MAC vs several opponents, the last tie was to the Big 10. The game ended when the Big 10 and Detroit Lions evicted the game from Ford Field and created a new game matching the Big 10 and ACC.

List of schools with more viewers for a non-bowl game TV appearance in the 2013 season:
Vanderbilt opening season Thursday night
Oklahoma State vs OU on the final weekend of the season
Missouri SEC championship
Ohio State Big 10 championship
Georgia topped it in several games, their bowl game was head-to-head vs three others.
LSU had several better regular season games, bowl was head-to-head with three other games.
Arizona drew better for Oregon, bowl game was played during work hours on Tuesday December 31.
Rice largest viewership was for season opener vs Texas A&M (Manziel suspended first half game), bowl started during work hours December 31.
Mississippi State had three better viewed games than Liberty Bowl vs. Rice.
Texas A&M bowl outdrawn by TAMU vs. Bama.
Navy drew better for Army (only game on the day) and Notre Dame than bowl vs. MTSU.
Ole Miss drew better for TAMU and Bama
Georgia Tech drew better for Georgia
Arizona State had a bigger audience for Notre Dame
Texas Tech drew better for Oklahoma
Michigan had larger audiences for several games. Bowl kicked off at 9:30pm Michigan time.
Notre Dame had several games outdrawing their bowl game.
Miami drew better for Florida State
Syracuse had several larger audiences
Minnesota drew better for Michigan
Pitt drew better for Florida State played on Labor Day Monday in only game of the day.
San Diego State had a larger audience against Ohio State
Colorado State drew 10,000 more viewers against Bama than New Mexico Bowl.
USC drew better in three regular season games than bowl vs Fresno