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Will Expanded Playoffs Eventually Kill Bowl Games? Nick Saban Has A Point

January 07,2018 22:10

Many gray-haired college football fans, and many of the self-declared purists of that sport grew up loving bowl games. Those in that near-geriatric tailgate have seen two disturbing trends, both in my view inspired by the quest for profitability, if ...



Roger Groves , Contributor Scratching my head at the intersection of sports, law and economics Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

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Many gray-haired college football fans, and many of the self-declared purists of that sport grew up loving bowl games.  Those in that near-geriatric tailgate have seen two disturbing trends, both in my view inspired by the quest for profitability, if not outright greed. First, we expanded the number of bowl games. We now have 39 of them, including The Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla (not Sarsaparilla) Bowl (Temple vs. FIU), The Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl (FAU vs. Akron), and the Camillia Bowl (Middle Tennessee vs. Arkansas State). If money didn’t matter then corporate naming rights would have been irrelevant.

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 6: Head Coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide speaks to the media during the College Football Playoff National Championship Media Day at Philips Arena on January 6, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

The traditional non-naming-rights bowls used to be a reward for the few teams that excelled during the season. The Big Ten, for example, only allowed one team to go to a bowl game, and that was the Rose Bowl. So each regular season game was fiercely contested, and the opportunity greatly coveted. There was greater demand and importance for the scarcity of opportunity. Those days are gone, with no return address.
Second, we now all know the college football landscape has both bowl games and a playoff with only the latter used as the basis for crowing a national champion. First the BCS, and now the College Football Playoffs (CFP). We also know that the playoff is now the football equivalent of basketball’s March Madness. We all should be reminded that the vast majority of all revenue generated for the NCAA comes from that single men’s basketball tournament, the largest single contribution being from the billion dollar media rights agreements with television networks.
During yesterday’s pre-national championship media interviews, Nick Saban weighed in with some insightful comments, and a forward-thinking challenge for those who will decide what the college football landscape will look like in the future. As he said, “from a thousand feet”, the philosophical question is not just “do we want to expand the playoffs”.

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - DECEMBER 21: The Temple Owls celebrate with their trophy following their 28-3 win over the Fiu Golden Panthers at the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl on December 21, 2017 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

Saban did what the chair of a board of directors should do: Ask the right questions that help decide the future of the enterprise.
Saban started by reminding us about the where we have been: “College football has always been unique because a lot of college football players got a lot of positive self-gratification from having a good season by going to a bowl game. And so did their fans. So bowl games have been a real traditional part of college football.”

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