Monday, December 7, 2015

Bowling For Soup

During the whitewash of a typical NFL Sunday, 80 teams found out what bowl game they'll take part in to end the 2015 campaign. There is plenty of excitement in matchups such as Florida/Michigan in the Citrus Bowl, Iowa making its first Rose Bowl appearance since 1992, Ohio State/Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, and the list could go on. But buried (or not buried) were the announcements of other bowls, such as the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, the AutoNation Cure Bowl, the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl... some of these names sound as if Jimmy Fallon made them up. 

Not only are three 5-7 teams bowl participants this season because not enough teams won six games, but Colorado State and Nevada are playing each other in the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl. If that sound strange to you, it's because it should; these teams are Mountain West conference mates, though they did not play this season. Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson is not pleased with the outcome, despite all his attempts to prevent it. "It is a travesty the Mountain West has been forced into this situation. Clearly, the system is broken." 

Commissioner Thompson is 100% correct. Three teams with sub .500 records in a bowl game should raise alarm, but two team in the same conference playing each other even in a world where conferences are too big to begin with is a bridge too far. But, he can do nothing to stop even more bowls from being created to cash in on this simple truth: even the stupidest and most useless of bowls matching two teams that four years ago were in FCS makes money hand over fist. The crowds may be sparse, but because its football, its free ratings money rolling in for ESPN. 

Is there any coincidence that a bowl created so Sinclair's American Sports Network syndication arm could get a slice of the bowl pie is under the microscope like the Arizona Bowl is? Is there any coincidence that CBS Sports Network's first bowl, the Cure Bowl, pits 6-6 Georgia State (who needed a win on the final Saturday of the season to become bowl eligible) against 5-7 San Jose State? There is no reason for ESPN's complete and total monopoly on meaningless meandering exhibitions of mediocre football, but the solution is breaking it up, not adding more bowls to the mix.

One of the popular narratives permeating this Christmas season is how ESPN is hemorrhaging subscribers, which means they are losing money (although they make it back in spades through advertising and subscriber fees). So free money, as these bowl games are, will be multiplying just for that reason, since ESPN and the suits know that people will watch because its football, and Americans just can't get enough football, even if it's Louisiana Tech vs. Arkansas State. Teams like those two deserve to be rewarded for their good seasons, but if bowl games are sliced even by one third, 7-5 "Power 5" teams will be taken over 9-3 "Group of 5 teams" every time.

It's a catch 22 for not only those teams, but bowl organizers (ESPN themselves in many an occasion) who probably can see the writing on the wall, but are kept on life support because of the money they make, though not necessarily for themselves. And so long as the checks keep flowing in like rainwater, the bowl games are going nowhere, despite protestations to this sad state of affairs.

The ideal number of bowl games seems to be around 25, with maybe 18-19 on ESPN/ABC and the rest spread around to FOX/CBS/NBC and their cable networks. They deserve as much of a piece of the pie as ESPN does, as they do contribute in large ways to the greater college football product. But as the number of bowls increases, the number of bowls ESPN swallows whole will increase too. 

The players, coaches, bowl organizers, cable networks are all beneficiaries to a business that seems too big to fail, and the only ones who are losers seem to be the keyboard warriors (me) who see this outgrowth as unnecessary excess capitalizing on our insatiable appetite for football, even when being starved of Bulldogs vs. Red Wolves would do us as a collective a little good in becoming healthier sports fan.

Bowl season needs Weight Watchers, and we need a bit of a football detox. 

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