December 26th, 2018 is the Day Lower Level College Bowl Games Began to Die
In case you haven't noticed, over the past few years, the shine and fun of going to a College Football Bowl Game has begun wearing off for most teams and certainly most games.
Sure, there are exceptions. Georgia Southern for one---celebrated, sold-out and continues to celebrate to no end, their win in December 15th's Camillia Bowl. Players for teams playing in the most minor of the minor bowls are perfectly happy to get their schwag and be feted for multiple days leading up to their games. As well they should.
And of course the College Football Playoff schools are happy as can be, along with their slightly crazed fanbases--as they should be.
But---the downward spiral of the mid-December bowl game may have accelerated due to a confluence of events on a single day. A Wednesday, the day AFTER Christmas where some really strange things happened.
It began during the day---a day where a particularly nasty weather system made its way across Texas, dumping tons of rain, lots of Thunderstorms and Severe Weather all across the Southwestern U.S.
The First Responder Bowl was scheduled to be played on this day after Christmas, featuring Boise State and Boston College squaring off in Dallas, Texas at the "Historic" Cotton Bowl...a stadium that truly harkened back to the Salad Days of College Bowl games.
The other sign of the Apocalypse came later in the evening when the Cal Bears and Texas Christian Horned Frogs squared off in the Cheez-It Bowl Game played in Phoenix, Arizona.
The was arguably the single worst played game in the history of bad bowl games. TCU won the game in Overtime 10-7 which should give you an idea of how bad the game was---but there's more.
1---The two teams combined for 9 Pass Interceptions in the game, which for a long time was more than the combined point total
2---Facing a potential Game Winning Field Goal at the end of regulation, TCU Coach Gary Patterson inexplicably changed kickers---after a Cal timeout. Then switched back...
3---A sideline interference penalty cost TCU a chance to win the game on, you guessed it, a pass interception return. But alas, it was not to be, the Horned Frogs got a sideline interference penalty after a Sports Information Person tripped over a yard marker. Yes, really, that happened....
But I digress.
The fiasco at the First Responder Bowl is indicative of a what December Bowl Games have become. An ESPN exhibition played for primarily two groups:
1---ESPN Programming and Production
2---The Bowl Committee to make a shit-ton of money
That's it. The Bowl Committee did nothing to refund, help, console or well, do anything for the smattering of Boston College and Boise State fans who made the trip to Dallas for the holidays and the game.
To their credit, the schools made offers to help those beleaguered folks who made the trek. But the committee and ESPN, their money was made whether the game got played or not. And that folks is the crux of the problem.
As my friend Tom Leonard dutifully reminded me, most of the players love going to the games. It's a chance for them to go someplace new, be treated like kings and get free stuff. Which is great. I'm happy for them.
But....it doesn't make up for the costs to the schools.
If they are lucky, most of these programs will break even in a December Bowl Game. The cost of flying players, coaches, administrators, the band and anyone else in the traveling party can be prohibitively expensive. Imagine being Louisiana Tech and flying everyone to Hawaii. Great for the kids, expensive as hell for the school who isn't exactly a Top 10 revenue team.
And then there is this: Schools are on the hook for unsold tickets. It's a scam perpetrated by the Bowl Committee's and overlooked by everyone else. When you are selected to a game, you get a ticket allotment.
That allotment is essentially how many tickets you have to sell for the game. For some its a smaller number, for some it is not. If you get 15,000 tickets and sell 5,000---guess what? No, you don't just give back the tickets, the school is on the hook for them.
So think about it. You are as an example--a SunBelt school who operates with a roughly $100,000 profit over the course of the season when gate receipts, visiting payouts etc. are counted. You then get selected to play a Bowl Game in Frisco, Texas. You get 15K tickets and sell 5,000 because your fans don't want to travel there in mid-December. At $30 a ticket, suddenly you have to pay for 10,000 tickets...or $300,000.
The payout you receive from ESPN and the Bowl game makes up for a lot of that cost. But not all of it because you are funding the travel too.
ESPN makes money no matter who shows up for a game. They are the primary funding source for most of the 35 or so, minor bowl games. That's why you'll see 26,000 people show up in a 72,000 seat Legion Field for the Birmingham Bowl. It doesn't matter if anyone shows up to watch.
There there are the "Bowl Committee's", most of whom exist solely to put on One Game in their respective town. To say they are flush with money would, well, be a huge understatement.
The Bowl Games, most of them anyway---say their primary functions are to play the game and donate proceeds to charity. And the people who run said games. Well, they make a lot of money.
The best example recently of their largess. A story by the Washington Post pointed out the Chairman of the Outback Bowl, a "2nd Tier" bowl game is the single highest paid Bowl Executive in all the land.
Jim McVay makes just over $1 million a year run the Committee. He doesn't actually do much other than schmooze corporate execs and symbolic stuff for the Single game, but he gets paid well for it. The Post says the game hauls in almost $12 million a year, McVay gets a rather disproportionately large amount of said revenue.
He's not the only one. Most of the "Big Game" Chairman make well over 6-figures.
My point here is this: There is a ton of money floating around College Football. We all know that. The Bowl Game system has changed. Dramatically over the past few decades. Me...and most of my contemporaries can remember waking up on New Years Day knowing there would be at least 6 or more games on to watch---all day long.
In the 1980 season, there were a total of 15 Bowl Games. In 1990 there were 19. By the year 2000, it grew to 25. 10-years later, in 2010 there were 35.
Which should tell you this: A lot of people found out there's money to be made.
The Bowl Game system in the year 2030 will likely bear little resemblance to what it is today. It may come kicking and screaming for change---but change will have to be made. The TV Networks don't have the money they once did and the legacy games such as the Rose Bowl, Sugar and Orange Bowl don't have the cache' they once did.
It's all about the playoff now, it's all ESPN really cares about. It doesn't really matter that Boise and Boston fans paid good money to go to a game that never got played and it doesn't really matter that Cal and TCU played arguably the worst played Bowl Game in College Football history.
Everyone got paid and the Bowl Committee along with ESPN got their money. And at the end of the day---it's the only reason we even talk about such things any more.