Altogether the New Year’s Six bowls lost 19 percent of their audience from a year earlier. CFP executive director Bill Hancock’s subsequent PR spin — calling the drop “modest” and urging people to remember that “one year does not make a trend” — sounded a whole lot like the persistently tone-deaf defenses he and the commissioners used to trot out about the oft-criticized BCS.
Obviously, neither commissioners nor bowl officials could control the lopsided nature of games like the Cotton (a 38-0 Alabama victory) and Rose (Stanford drilled Iowa 45-16), but results alone did not fully explain the erosion. Not only did the New Year’s Eve semifinals inconvenience many fans, but they also managed to make the New Year’s Day games feel largely anticlimactic.
The Granddaddy of them All, the Rose Bowl, used to enjoy TV ratings in the high teens or low 20s. This year’s garnered a record-low 7.4. Which is not entirely unexpected when you serve the main course before the appetizers.
“I am concerned about how does a playoff and a bowl system coexist, and how could we make it better if that’s possible,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said at his morning-after press conference here Tuesday. “. . . [It’s] this whole dynamic of how do we keep a healthy bowl system — which I think is great for college football, it’s a lot of positive self-gratification for a lot of players who had a good season — and the national interest that we have in a playoff, which sort of overwhelms the importance of all the other bowl games.”
He’s right, you know.
We’ve got exactly what you’d expect from a set up that’s a pastiche of the traditional bowl system and a desire to lay a playoff arrangement on top of that. The underlying motive is to wring as much money out of the sport’s following as possible. That motive’s not any different from any other major sports enterprise in this country, of course. It’s the implementation that’s so cocked up.
The New Year’s Eve semis aren’t going away anytime soon, though, in large part because of the Rose and Sugar’s partner conferences locked in their Jan. 1 timeslots with ESPN before the larger playoff was finalized. While the Rose has been played in that window for decades, this year’s largely forgettable Ole Miss-Oklahoma State primetime Sugar Bowl emerged from a “tradition” that the SEC and Big 12 created way back in 2012.
And they’re not budging, either.
“We’ve got an important and meaningful relationship with the Sugar Bowl over time that the Big 12 and SEC worked to establish a contract and an agreement that that’s when that game would be played,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said here Sunday. “That is important to us. I think it’s clearly important to our fans. It was important to the Oklahoma State and Big 12 fans who were in New Orleans. We’re going to protect that tradition.”
If you can’t respect a first-year commissioner’s passion for a three-year tradition, what can you respect?
Mandel is right about where things are heading when he writes,
And ultimately, most of us realize that’s where the sport is ultimately headed — an eight-team playoff with early-round games played on campuses. It won’t happen anytime soon, what with 10 years left on the current playoff contract. But the commissioners built this system as a somewhat clunky hybrid of the traditional bowl season and a bracketed tournament. As interest in the non-playoff bowls wane, protecting the bowls’ interests will inevitably become a lower priority.
Sankey and his peers will deny that all the while as it comes to pass – I can hear Bill Hancock explain it all now – but it will still happen. And we’ll be told it’s being done in our interest, too.