For the life of me, I can’t figure out what makes Stewart Mandel happy.
Just a few days after writing this tedious paean to the bowl system, in which he tells us that “You’ll have to forgive me if I’m in no hurry to see the Fiesta Bowl turn into the ‘NCAA Southwest Regional.'”, he turns right around in this piece where he notes that the TV ratings in several of the BCS games have been sagging since the advent of the fifth game and observes that the way to fix that is – you guessed it – “Obviously, the one certain way to increase interest in such games would be the inception of a playoff.”
Now I watch this stuff anyway, so I’m not the one to ask, but seriously, how many of you out there that didn’t watch the Orange Bowl this year would tune in if they slapped a “playoff” label on it? And why?
Mandel’s solution to the problem is a non-starter.
… As I’ve written before, it’s time for the BCS to think about revising its selection process in order to create more compelling matchups. Between the various conference partnerships, automatic berths and selection order, there’s almost no flexibility when it comes to which teams the bowls can select.
If USC wants to leave Pasadena for a change — in the case of this season, maybe for the chance to play No. 3 Texas in the Fiesta Bowl — it should have that right. Similarly, there are a whole bunch of rabid, SEC fan bases chomping at the bit for access to the Rose Bowl. I know the folks in Pasadena are wed to their Big Ten-Pac-10 tradition, but how many more USC-Big Ten blowouts can they expect us to stomach?
Sounds great on the surface, but he’s really robbing Peter to pay Paul here. Sure, you could have tarted up the Rose Bowl the last two years by having SEC teams travel to play USC, but what would that have left the Sugar Bowl with?
The real problem is that the ACC and the Big East haven’t consistently generated top tier teams in the past few years. (The Big Ten hasn’t been too hot in that area lately, either, especially in terms of depth.) That’s not the same thing as saying the conferences aren’t competitive or that they’re bad overall, but it’s clear that their best aren’t at the same level year in and year out as the elite teams in other conferences. That’s how you wind up with an Orange Bowl with two teams not in the top 10 facing off against each other. That may suck, but there’s no way the BCS conferences are going to give up automatic bids for their champs.
But wait – there’s more! Mandel does note that ESPN is doing quite well with the rest of its bowl package…
At the same time BCS ratings have been sagging, eight of the 10 highest-rated bowl games in ESPN history have taken place just since 2005, including this year’s Champs Sports and Alamo (Northwestern-Missouri) bowls…
but that’s because of people like me.
… there’s always going to be a segment of diehard football fans who tune in to those early games. The key to racking up what used to be far larger audiences for the BCS bowls is to draw in more casual fans — the type for whom New Year’s Day football has been a longstanding tradition.
That’s another area where the BCS, and bowls in general, have erred. By spreading out the traditional New Year’s games farther and farther each year (this year there were more games played on Dec. 31 than Jan. 1), the original appeal of these games has become irrelevant.
Whether you agree with that or not (and I do to some extent agree that spreading the games out has reduced viewership), whose fault is that? Not the bowls, Mandel, but Fox TV. The bowls are just doing Fox’s bidding. That’s what happens when you take The Man’s money. From the bowls’ standpoint, it’s a small price to pay. And after all, ESPN did just outbid Fox significantly for those broadcast rights, so somebody with a checkbook must think the BCS is doing something right.
In Mandel’s world, though, declining TV ratings are “a BCS problem, not a TV problem”. Some problem, but what do I know? I watched the Orange Bowl.