Think there are too many bowl games? Blame the NCAA.

It’s quite simple, really.  There’s an attendance requirement for all D-1 schools to meet if they wish to stay in college football’s top division.

To maintain FBS status, a school must average 15,000 in paid or actual attendance a game at least once every two seasons.

The 2010 regular season attendance figures are out.  Here’s how one D-1 conference performed:

The MAC had tremendous trouble getting fans to the game. Seven of the bottom 10 teams in attendance were from the MAC and none of those teams (Eastern Michigan, Miami University, Western Michigan, Buffalo, Akron and Ball State) drew more than 16,000 fans per game. Ball State had the worst attendance among FBS schools at 8,947 fans per game.

If you look at the 2009 numbers, you’ll see that the MAC’s attendance figures in that year were just as dreadful.  The average attendance for the conference was 15,317.  Ball State’s attendance that season was 10,888 (that wasn’t the worst – Eastern Michigan’s 5,016 was the lowest in all of D-1).  Ball State, then, is far short of the minimum attendance requirement the NCAA sets for D-1 eligibility.  What’s the likelihood that the school will be dropped from D-1?

The fact is that there are too many schools playing D-1 football.  They don’t draw; they don’t get much TV money.  They don’t generate much revenue (including direct institutional support) in the context of their expenses.  In fact, the MAC as a whole suffered a net operating loss in football in the 2008 season.

The BCS/playoff debate masks this underlying problem, or calls it one of fairness.  The issue is whether D-1 football should be structured to provide financial support to money-losing conferences, or whether it should require its member institutions to stand on firmer financial footing by eliminating those which are unable to meet fairly low performance standards.  I think the latter approach makes more sense, as it makes the top tier more competitive and alleviates the financial pressure on those schools which are unable to perform in an economically viable way.

Further, this study makes it clear that financial demographics don’t favor most mid-majors.

My guess is that the NCAA doesn’t see things that way, though.  Which is one reason you’ll continue to see too many bowl games and too many teams eligible to play in bowl games.

At least the D-1 folks are taking steps to close the barn door, though.

Pricier neighborhood: The Division I Legislative Council approved new conditions for joining the highest-profile division, including a far steeper application fee expected to range from $900,000 to $1.3 million. Reclassifying schools now pay $15,000. The action, designed to stem the division’s rapid growth, also requires a standing invitation from a D-I conference.

As much interest as there’s been for lower level schools to move up to D-1 in football, imagine what it would be like in the context of an NCAA-sanctioned, extended playoff-format postseason.  (Hint:  there are currently 343 schools eligible for March Madness.)


Filed under College Football, It's Just Bidness, The NCAA

21 responses to “Think there are too many bowl games? Blame the NCAA.

  1. orlandodawg

    I’ll never understand the “too many bowl games” argument. If you don’t want to watch, don’t. If someone can jump through all the hoops to host a game and reward the hard work of a bunch of student-athletes, go for it. What does it hurt?


    • Joe

      100% agree. If the Mobile, AL Chamber of Commerce wants to put on a football game with the hope of economic gain for the community, 2 university’s football programs are interested in playing an extra game, and ESPN wants to have a certain number of live football inventory to show in December/January, what’s the issue? The Mobile, AL bowl has no bearing on a championship so why be offended by this game taking place? TBS might have re-runs of “the Office” showing at this same timeslot as well as many other options so you could always watch that unless your TV only gets ESPN. Also, NFL playoffs are going on so you have football playoffs you can watch.


      • Chris

        The problem with this line of reasoning is it assumes it’s just another game. In fact, the schools that play in these bowl games routinely lose money. They are responsible for a large amount of tickets that they resell back to their fans either by themselves or as part of ticket packages to make money. If the tickets go unsold, the university is on the line for their cost, not the bowl. If a MAC team accepts a bid, they’ll be buying more tickets for their fans than actually went to any of their games. Also, some of the bowl games may also have hotel and other tie ins that the university is now responsible for. This is even the case for the major bowl games. At one point UConn had sold so little of their allotment that they stood to lose over $2 million (I’m not sure what the final figure was).

        So that’s the problem. It’s not that two teams want to play in a game, it’s that they’ll blow their budgets apart for more TV time and a little bit of practice. Neither of these is a legitimate reason that a school should have an FBS team and play in a crappy bowl in December.


    • I used to think that, too — until the number of bowls reached a point where there might not be enough eligible teams to fill them. At that point, the logical thing would’ve been for the NCAA to say, “Well, if you can’t find two eligible teams, your bowl has to go on hiatus that year.” Instead, the NCAA’s “contingency plan” went straight to fast-tracking waivers to the six-win rule. And this after the rule supposedly requiring six wins over D-IA teams has effectively been tossed out the window.

      Personally, I think the bar for bowl eligibility should be set at six D-IA wins, no exceptions. (And yes, I know that would’ve excluded Georgia from a bowl trip this year, but honestly, in hindsight, would anybody in Dawg Nation really be that upset if the Liberty Bowl debacle had never happened?)

      If that leaves some of the lower-tier bowls without any teams to invite, oh well, but I think Western civilization would’ve survived even if we hadn’t been able to see 6-6 BYU blow out 6-6 UTEP in Albuquerque last month. If it’s that important to you that every team get to play a 13th game, go ahead and expand the regular season to 13 games — hooray, more football for everyone. But if the bowl season is to remain some kind of reward for good teams (or even the merely decent), and I think it is, then someone’s going to have to draw the line somewhere.


      • Russ

        I think the original concept of a bowl matching two teams that are “deserving” (based on current record) has been largely watered down. However, I don’t really mind. I enjoyed watching pretty much all 35 bowl games this year. Even some of the games between two mediocre teams were entertaining. That’s what it’s about for me, being entertained.


      • JasonC

        I agree completely. However, I would be reluctant for the NCAA to add a 13th game to the regular season because then you need more bottom-feeders to fill the extra game.


  2. Why isn’t the MAC relocated to the FCS? At least demote a team like Eastern Michigan who can’t even put a relatively competitive product on the field.


    • Excellent question. The NCAA’s standards for D-IA eligibility have been known for years, and yet despite numerous teams falling short in terms of attendance or APR or whatever, there’s never any talk whatsoever of any of those teams getting demoted.


    • Ken

      Why should Eastern be the victim of the NCAA’s selective enforcement of rules? Ohio State players violate the rules…Oh well, we’ll postpone it until next season. But wait, all 5 of those players are eligible to go on to the NFL. Well, nudge nudge wink wink, we’ll make them promise they’ll stay. Cam Newton’s dad is found to be shaking down schools but since Cam Newton was out of the loop, that’s okay too. USC was flounting the rules for a number of years and when does the NCAA decide to enforce it? When all of the folks involved have moved on to bigger and better things. But hey, some school can’t get enough people to come to its game (which as an alumnus, I think is pathetic btw)…lets boot them.


  3. Biggus Rickus

    I’d also raise the minimum attendance requirements. All of the Big 6 but the Big East average over 50,000, and there’s a wider gulf between the Big East and the Mountain West than the ACC and Big East. Up the number to 25,000 and actually enforce it, and you’d get rid of most of the chaff.


  4. Will Trane

    It is good for you high school region teams to have attendance that is close to Ball State. The MAC is a bordline program…to little for D1 and maybe to big for the others. The D1 needs to raise the bar because the elitists and “good old boys fraternity” at the NCAA will move slowly to this issue in time. If the NCAA does not shape up, do not be surprised if the D1s begin their own. Plus ESPN needs to walk a tighter line with commentators from Big Ten and its association with the NCAA. Too much curring of favortism. Even though the Dawgs lost in the Liberty Bowl with the 6-6, it was good for them to go. It allows coaches to look more closer at some players, positions, sets, schemes, techniques, prepare players for bigger bowl venues, compare current roster with recruiting and next years depth chart, etc…that is some of the many reasons coaches like bowls. Whether the Dawgs deserved a bowl or not, take it…it is important!


    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      Going to a bowl allows a team to have what is essentially another spring practice–before the real spring practice.


  5. Stoopnagle

    So… we’re Germany and the MAC is Greece?


  6. Bryant Denny

    I like watching college football so it doesn’t really matter to me.

    I realize that the match-ups are just so-so, but at least there’s some CFB on TV.

    However, I do agree that there are too many FBS teams. For example, there is no way that UAB should have a FBS team. No way. They don’t have the support, facilities or capital to make it work.

    A bunch of teams need kicked back to the FCS curb.

    Oh yeah. Are you a playoff proponent? Take your team back to FCS where there’s a bracket ready made for ya.

    Have a good day,



  7. Ausdawg85

    Sooooo…playoffs would make regular season games irrelevent. No playoffs make bowl games irrelevent. Got it.


  8. crapsandwich

    Well the small conferences look at it much differently than we would. I think it is sick that UGA even qualified for a bowl game, had to buy up unsold tickets to a cold weather bowl game that hasn’t had relevancy since the 60’s.

    Love to know how much money our Bowl game contributed to the SEC. That negative figure will never be known.


  9. I just want someone to explain to me HOW bowl games would lose their meaning with a playoff

    I mean, how exactly are they worth anything right now outside BCS games?


    • Hackerdog

      I haven’t seen anyone argue that bowl games are currently meaningful. So, a playoff obviously wouldn’t impact the meaninglessness of bowl games.

      It’s the regular season that becomes devalued with a playoff.


  10. Derek

    Before everyone demanded title game you could have 3 bowl games in one day that had national title implications. But that wasn’t good enough. Now we have one game that matters. The old system wasn’t broke but I’m sure we’ll keep fixing it until we’re all completely miserable.


  11. Anonymous

    Russ, the original concept for the bowls was not to reward deserving teams. The original concept was to invite teams to play a game to get fans to travel to the community. That was the reason for bowls and remains the raison d’etre for the bowl committees.


  12. JudgeDawg

    Zedick, the “relevance” issue has nothing to do with establishing the order of quality of teams. Always remember the first rule of all bowls other than the BCS game: BOWLS EXIST TO PROMOTE TOURISM. The Independence Bowl does not exist to answer the question of whether the #5 ACC team is better than the number # Mt. West team. The Independence Bowl exists to bring a few thousand extra people to Shreveport every December.

    The bowls are worried that fans would not consider them as their destination. If Michigan and Mississippi State fans know that the Gator Bowl is the last game of the season they may go and spend 3 or 4 days in North Florida/South Georgia hotels and restaurants. If both teams played in the Gator bowl as a playoff quarter final, how many fans are going to pass on the trip and save their money to see the next round? Those that decide to fund trips to the quarters and semi-finals may spend fewer days at the Gator Bowl site.

    The bowls see the half empty arenas on the first weekend of the NCAA tournament and don’t want to do anything that would reduce the tourist dollars in their host locations.

    That is the relevancy issue the bowls have.