Three things I’ve noticed this bowl season: a decent number of exciting games, the blessed peace that derives from Craig James’ absence from the airwaves and smaller crowds.
With regard to that last item, it turns out I’m not imagining things.
… Tuesday night’s Sugar Bowl was the 30th of this season’s 35 games, each of which also was played last season. The total attendance for those games is more than 2.5% lower this season than it was last season. If this trend holds for the remaining five games, the average bowl attendance for the season would fall to 50,542. That would be the lowest since 1978-79, when the number of games expanded to 15 from 13 and the average was 48,404. (In 2002-03, when the number of games expanded to 28 from 25, the average was 50,575.)
This season’s attendance also is nearly 3% lower when compared against the previous five-season average for the 25 games played in each of those seasons.
I’m sure Dan Wetzel, PlayoffPAC and others of their ilk are feverishly preparing missives that this is proof fans are finally fed up with the BCS. And far be it from me to discount that possibility may exist for some – although I’d find that far more convincing if broadcast numbers are down in a similar fashion. (Also, lest we forget, it’s not as if dissatisfaction with the BCS is something that came into being just now.)
You can probably blame some of the drop on an economy that’s still in the dumps for most of us. But I think there are two other factors more deserving of the blame.
First, there are too many bowl games. The more games, the more opportunities for mid-major schools with small fan bases and power conference schools coming off disappointing seasons to play in the postseason. Neither are recipes for large attendance figures.
Second, as much as the powers that be proclaim the sacredness of the bowl season, the reality is that they piss all over it at any given opportunity in the chase for the almighty dollar.
… Fans aren’t dumb. They know when they’re getting played, whether it’s games that don’t matter, matchups that don’t make sense, or buying tickets from schools that don’t go as low as the open market.
Pro-BCS folks say a playoff would hurt the bowl tradition. They neglect to mention the sport already sold out a sacred tradition, New Year’s Day, by stretching out the bowl season to milk every dollar and watering down Jan. 1.
Three years ago, Florida State became the first team in 58 years to play on New Year’s Day without a winning record. Four more 6-6 teams have since followed on the game’s New Year’s date.
It’s foolish to expect people to continue to pay full price for a cheapened product. But the bowls and schools don’t care because that’s not where the real money is. Or, as Jon Solomon puts it, “Bowls once were designed strictly for local communities. Now they’re TV programming to get us through the holidays.”
That’s especially true when the WWL owns several of ’em outright.
I don’t see where a playoff makes a difference, either – if anything, that probably accelerates the process of converting the postseason into TV fodder. If the trends continue, at some point, college football will have little choice but to move all but the last playoff game or two over to college campuses if the postseason is to have any relevant attendance. (Would anyone attend an early round NIT game otherwise?)
As for whether we should have any hope that a bunch of wise men will get together, recognize the problem and take steps to preserve one of the unique traditions in American sports, I leave you with this:
… She wasn’t specific but said with many conference realignments pending, Bowl Championship Series executive director “Bill Hancock and the BCS and all of us as bowl directors … have to look at what’s going on — can you tweak it, can you make some changes. … The onus is on each of us as bowl directors. We’re only a part of college football, but we need to do what’s best for our conference partners, our TV partners and our sponsorship partners.
“A lot of things have led up to this,” she added. “We need to do our due diligence and look at what’s in the best interest of our business and make changes appropriately.”
Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.