After UCLA made it to a bowl game as a 6-7 team last year (due to their loss in the Pac-12 Championship Game), there were some discussions about moving the eligibility back up to a 7-5 record in January. Less than a month ago, it was reported by multiple media outlets, including ESPN, that the bowl eligibility would likely remain at 6 wins. Then over the weekend, everyone was thrown a curve-ball and eligibility was changed, and actually lowered.
The new process is officially, “first consideration will go to 6-6 teams with a win against any FCS teams, regardless of scholarships, then 6-6 teams with two wins against FCS schools. A team that finishes 6-7 and loses in a conference championship would be next, followed by 6-7 teams that normally play a 13-team schedule, such as Hawaii and its home opponents. Then bowls could then invite FCS teams making the move to FBS, if they have at least a 6-6 record. Finally, a team with a top-five APR that finishes 5-7 could be selected.” (FBS=1-A and FCS= 1-AA)
My biggest issue here is that you are opening yourself up to the possibility of increasing the number of garbage teams that are going to play in bowl games. Now, you have junkies like me that will literally watch every single bowl game, regardless of the match-up. But for every one person like me, there are probably 50,000 people who won’t watch a bowl game if it’s not a marquee match-up. Now, the likelihood of a 5-7 team qualifying with that many other teams eligible in front of them is highly unlikely. But, I still wish that the NCAA had raised it up to 7-5. Why reward being .500? There’s nothing impressive about that. Furthermore, the bowl games cost so much for Universities, that most of those small schools that are 6-6 are better off not going.
Those articles are all from either 2010 or 2011, but costs aren’t going down. There are far too many examples to go through and list them all, but in 2011, when Virginia Tech went to the Orange Bowl, the Athletic Department reported that they lost $421,046. Think about that, they lost almost $500,000 attending a BCS bowl game, as a conference champion. Any money that the BCS gave out, was outweighed by their expenditures. Why? Because at bowl games, schools are required to buy a certain amount of tickets, a certain amount of hotel rooms, they send the band, they have to send other personnel from the Athletic Department other than the football team, etc. And unless you’re a major money-making school like Michigan, Ohio State, Texas, Alabama, the likelihood of you losing money attending a bowl game is shockingly high. Excluding 2012, the three years prior, the NCAA did a study and showed that the average expenses exceeded the average revenue, meaning most schools lost money. This right here is why they shouldn’t have expanded bowl eligibility.
Bowl games have become too common, and with 34 of them, obviously a fair amount of the games will suffer. With a down economy, fewer people want to travel to games, which is why TV ratings don’t suffer much, even though the actual attendance, and the schools that attend do. So ESPN sits there and counts their money and laughs, while the BCS simultaneously sits there and counts their money and laughs (for now), and the schools win a game and get stuck with the bill.
The only upside to playing in bowl games while losing money? Studies have shown that success in bowl games and during March Madness, especially on a national scale, increases the number of undergraduates that apply to attend your school. This is effectively known as the “Flutie Effect.” After Doug Flutie won the Heisman at Boston College, applications to the University spiked 12%. The examples get far more drastic when you look at basketball, and teams that make runs like George Mason and Richmond.
So yes, there is a small benefit to having a lot of bowl games, but the negatives far outweigh them. I mean, one year Central Florida lost $1.1 Million to attend a bowl game, you can’t tell me that a tiny spike in applications to attend your school is worth $1.1 Million. Had bowl games gotten more exclusive, especially with a playoff upcoming, fans would be more likely to attend because those borderline teams wouldn’t qualify every year. And with better match-ups, the TV ratings would probably go up as well. Adjusting the bowl eligibility to 7-5 would have been a victory for everyone involved.