Everybody loves bowl games, right? To some extent, yes. Players love the swag and the travel. Coaches love the extra practice time. Fans love attending - as long as they can drive to the game.
And ESPN? The Worldwide Leader in Sports absolutely LOVES bowl games, as college football attracts more viewers than just about everything except the NFL. So more bowl games would seem to be a no-brainers, right?
Well, it was until last season, when college football found themselves with more bowl games than bowl-eligible teams. Prior to last season, "bowl-eligible" meant that you had to finish the regular season with at least a .500 record. In 2015, rather than cancel two bowl games, the NCAA allowed Nebraska, Minnesota and San Jose State to play in a bowl game despite going 5-7 in the regular season.
Meanwhile, civic groups in Austin, Charleston and Myrtle Beach have proposed new bowl games in their cities, which would expand the number of bowl games from 41 to 44...and increase the likelihood that more teams with losing records would get bowl berths.
In light of that, the NCAA's Division I Council has enacted a three-year ban on new bowl games, until after the 2019 football season. In the meantime, ESPN's Brett McMurphy reports that the NCAA will take a closer look at bowl-eligibility criteria. In the past, teams needed a winning record, but then it was expanded to include .500 teams after the number of bowl games increased. Now that the number of bowl games has increased to the point that teams with losing records are receiving bowl bids, it's raised the question as to whether such teams truly "deserve" a bowl bid.
It's interesting to also note that many schools lose money when they play in a bowl games. Many of these lower-tier games have relatively low payouts (as little as $400,000) and require schools to purchase large numbers of tickets. Fans have learned to buy tickets on the secondary market (better seats for lower prices) than from the schools, and frankly, in this age of high-definition TV, are increasingly electing to stay home rather than spend hundreds of dollars on airfare during the already hectic holiday travel season.
Arguably, one possible solution to the question of expanding the number of bowl games is to require that any new bowl games must ensure that schools break-even at worst on the deal. That would require a greater financial commitment to the game from both the local organizers as well as the broadcasters (i.e. ESPN). Organizers who are able to do just that will, in turn, make their bowl games more desirable and move themselves up in the pecking order. (And thus, pushing games in Boise and Boca Raton to either fold or up the ante on their payouts as well.)
What's your take? Should more sub-.500 football teams get bowl bids? Does it really matter if bad teams get bowl games, since it means more football for fans to enjoy? Or are we at the saturation point with bowl games?