College football leaders, especially in the Big Ten, are examining ways to modify the bowl system as fan interest in bowl games continues to decline.
“There are going to be some changes,” Iowa athletic director Gary Barta told ESPN.com. “What I worry about is the watering-down of college football. College football’s been on a meteoric rise since the creation of the BCS, both in stadium attendance and TV ratings. I think we’re starting to see that saturation, and that’s what I worry about going forward in the next 10 or 20 years. As we go into introducing the 2014 playoff, it is a chance for us to re-look at all of our bowls.”
“I used the term bowl fatigue,” Ohio State AD Gene Smith told ESPN.com. “When you go back to the same place multiple times … the novelty is lost.”
“We’re going to try to get toward more looking at how do you put together a slate where you get good matchups, but at the same time avoid repeats … the bowls don’t want that either,” Purdue’s Morgan Burke said. “I don’t know that we can unteach what people have learned over the years — ‘We have the next pick, and the next pick.’ Maybe you don’t do that this round. Maybe we say, ‘You’re going to get a Big Ten team, and it will be part of a selection process.'”
Clearly, the Big Ten folks are hung up on diversifying away from the same locations for bowl games.
The problem, however, is that the issues with the existing bowl system are not simply tied to a few teams heading to Orlando too frequently. Rather, college football will have to overcome are the costs of attending a bowl game coupled with the decreasing importance of a bowl game appearance for many college football programs.
As the economy has kept the masses cash strapped on discretionary items like traveling to Florida to attend the Capital One bowl, the reality is that lots of fans simply can’t afford the high cost of going to a bowl game. Perhaps, hosting a bowl game or two within a closer proximity to Big Ten country would help in this regard, but then you have to deal with the freezing temperatures of Big Ten country.
Moreover, as the status of the vast majority of bowl games becomes cemented as an “undercard” matchup compared to the major BCS Bowls, interest in these games has declined. The supply of bowl games has increased dramatically over the last decade. Making matters worse for bowl games, the number of season “kickoff” games has increased – games which have many similarities to bowl games except for one: it matter if you win.
I predict that as the playoff becomes implemented, the bowl games will suffer even more. As more attention is granted to the semifinal matchups, less attention will go to the meaningless exhibitions around the country. The bowl system is not in a cyclical decline, but rather, a secular decline.
The exceptions tend to come when a fan base has an extraordinary season. Whether it is South Carolina winning ten games in the regular season or the Aggies dominating with Johnny Manziel, fans now need a reason to spend the money to travel for a bowl game. Simply being a fan isn’t enough in this economic and college football climate.