The only problem with the Sun Bowl

THE SUN BOWL is a solid bowl game and the Cougs have a chance to get to nine wins against a resurgent Miami team. So why were there some long faces Sunday afternoon around Cougar Nation?

The game is Dec. 26 and it’s a morning kick.  The average temperature the day after Christmas in El Paso: a high of 56 degrees, low of 31.  It was 42 degrees at kickoff last year in the Sun Bowl.  El Paso doesn’t allow for a lot of direct flights.  

But perhaps the biggest reason for some frowns: WSU (and Utah) were passed over by the Holiday Bowl and the Foster Farms, two Tier I Pac-12 bowls.  Their decisions indicate that the stated reasons for what’s important to the bowls no longer apply -- or perhaps more accurately, that one factor trumps all.

The Holiday Bowl committee chose USC, despite USC playing in the Holiday Bowl last year. It’s also going to be a two-hour day trip for many USC fans to San Diego, lessening the infusion of cash.  Previously, a bowl selection committee would have done anything to avoid the repeat team, and they have always stated a strong desire to choose a school that will travel well.  Now, they’ve embraced the opposite, and willingly.

Similarly, the Foster Farms exercised their right to select a UCLA team with one fewer conference win than WSU (and Utah).  That option has been portrayed as really only being used to avoid the repeat customer.  The UCLA fan base can also make it more of a day trip to Santa Clara with a quick flight.  So what's going on? The evidence leads to only one conclusion.

Ratings trumps all.  And ESPN is very happy today.

Virtually all of the postseason games (ironically, not the Sun Bowl) will be broadcast by ESPN or ABC networks, both owned by The Walt Disney Co.  ESPN doesn’t have any stake in whether fan bases travel or not, it’s all about the ratings for a television network.  It’s easy to do the math when looking at the LA television market.

Ticket demand has been on the decline for bowl games as ESPN has cornered the market, especially the lower tier bowls.  But millions of viewers keep tuning in. Last year, the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., drew just 20,256 fans. But it had an average television audience of 1,114,000, according to ESPN.  That makes for wide smiles around Bristol, if not for area businesses and hotels.

"Fans are voting with their remotes and with their eyeballs. I take issue with the notion of judging what's a good idea based on how many people are in the stands,” the ESPN vice president for programming and acquisitions told USA Today last year.

Washington State is going bowling – any bowl is a good bowl. The Sun has virtually unparalleled tradition and history. It is the second-oldest bowl game along with the Sugar and Orange, behind the Rose Bowl. 

There will be lots to talk about, and get excited about, for Cougar fans in the coming days before Washington State buckles up the pads against Miami on Dec. 26 at 11 a.m. 

But for some Cougar fans this Sunday, there’s lament mixed in with the excitement that comes with the postseason. That will fade, but perhaps not today.

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