Bowl games are a business. Most businesses come with a lot of contracts. But are bowl games going to have to produce some new contracts to face the reality of the economics of hosting football games.
The number of NFL prospective/probable players are skipping their college’s bowl game. This trend is likely going to continue to rise before it falls. This is a business decision being made by young men, I am not appraising that decision. It is a growing trend I see.
This season, Nick Bosa left his team after an injury. He was injured in the 3rd game of the season vs. TCU. Ohio State was in the National Championship “conversation” the entire season. Without a 29-point loss at Purdue; the Buckeyes could have argued for a spot over 1 loss Oklahoma. I am not saying that would or should have happened. Since there the committee is still picking the championship instead of teams earning spots in; anyone, besides UCF, can be in the National Championship.
I doubt any player in the hunt of the National Championship will make a similar decision to skip the chance to raise a trophy. Kyler Murray has big money waiting with the Oakland Athletics. Still I expect him to play every offensive down of what might be his last two (fingers crossed) college football games. So those three games, the 2 semifinals and the final, are guaranteed moneymakers. Regardless, this individual business decision calls into question the ability of each respective bowl/business to deliver an audience that fulfill advertisers’ expectations.
While I am formulating this article; I am watching the Armed Forces Bowl between my alma mater USMA (aka Army-West Point) vs. Houston. Army had a 10-2 season including a win over Navy that I had the pleasure of watching live.
(Short side note; Army has not lost when I have attended the Army vs. Navy game. Maybe someone should get me and my wife tickets to ensure this streak continues. We seem to be a good luck charm.)
Currently Army is beating Houston soundly. Partly because the Houston offense is relying on a freshman quarterback on his fourth start. He is also Houston’s only quarterback. But also, Houston’s entire defensive line has skipped the game. The injured Ed Oliver is a likely top draft pick to the NFL and may have skipped anyway. His line-mates Jerard Carter, Payton Turner and Isaiah Chambers are out with injuries as well. Also missing the game is Mark D’Onofrio the season’s defensive coordinator who was fired before the bowl game.
Another participant in this business evaluation are the colleges themselves. Colleges gamble when they accept a bowl bid. Each college must pay to transport, feed and house their players, coaches, trainers, band, cheerleaders and anyone else the school brings. The college also have a block of tickets the school must sell. If the school can’t, the college has to pay for those tickets. So, if you wonder why your school turned down the “opportunity” to play in a bowl game; the cost might just be too high.
All these business stresses might change the bowl/business. There is interest by fans (and maybe others?) to continue expanding the field of available teams for the championship. Six or Eight teams; expanding the bowls needed from 3 to either 5 or 7. Also expanding the revenue for those chosen bowls. But what happens to the other bowl games?
The non-championship bowl games are going to have to be innovative. To protect their businesses, they are going to have to try new things.
What can bowl games do?
1. Insurance. Not for the bowl/business themselves, I assume as businesses they already have their own insurance. I mean insure the players.
Jake Butt decided to play in Michigan’s Orange Bowl game on New Year’s Day in 2017. He tore his ACL during the game. But (yes I could have used lots of other words like Still, Although or others) Jake must have listened and learned during business class because he got insured before the Orange Bowl. That was a good business move even if it does not salve the injury that kept him out of first year of the NFL after being drafted by the Denver Broncos. He had a solid start to the 2018 season when again, he tore an ACL, knocking him out for the season.
This cautionary tale and others like Jaylon Smith of Notre Dame and now the Dallas Cowboys; are all student-athletes need to make their own individual business decision to skip bowl games. They play a violent game. But the goal is to play that game at the highest level and college is not it. Getting a bowl game ring is rewarding but it is not the goal.
The bowl games can work with insurance companies to ensure the players are covered. It is in the bowl/business best interests to get good deals. This would ensure the best players are in the game. Hypothetically leading to a better and more competitive game. Increasing attendance, television viewership, revenue and advertising dollars.
2. Make schools submit bowl roster. Typically, teams (and their players) know if they are going to the National Championship game. I would guess, without evidence, that no team outside the top 10 in the middle of November has been picked for the championship. Most teams know which bowls they are eligible for by that time too.
Bowl invitations are going out in early December. Particularly for the pre-Christmas day bowls. They need to lock in where their revenue is coming from. They want a team that “travels well”. By that I mean a school whose current and former students will pay to get to the game. Time for time off to be taken and travel arrangements to be made.
Still, the bowls want to pick the best teams as well. They should do so with the best information. Much like the NFL must provide a roster of available players by a certain date; bowls could require the same of teams they are interested in. Teams that will not may be taken out of contention.
This could make bowl season truly competitive even before the teams hit the field.
3. Restrict seniors from participating in bowls. This makes it a more open game, hypothetically.
Might make it a sloppy game as well. Forcing coordinators to use players they are not as confident in. They also must scheme against a team they have not seen. That is unless bowl bound teams play more players in their pre-bowl games. But then that limits the playing time of seniors in those November and December games.
The seniors might want to play. For a lot of them, this would be the last time they play with their teammates; a sentimental game for many. Some might use this final (hopefully good) performance to either make it to the draft or just get signed to a roster.
But it might make for an interesting game too. Vegas and the book makers would be challenged. Can they properly draw a betting line against teams they have not really seen in action? The “action” would be fun. I guess, I don’t bet on sports or anything else, so I am just guessing. But I know that gambling has an affect on the bowls. Gambling has an affect on the regular season games. That is why they talk about it on ESPN’s College Gameday.
This might not be every non-championship bowl game’s rule. But it might be something for them to look at. Even if not for the whole game; maybe for the first half? These are ways to make things competitive. One team might be up and the complexion of the game changes with new personnel. I think this is a wrinkly that adds a lot of excitement.
4. Host the FCS along with Divisions II and III Championship games. The games are locked in to television contracts with ESPN. This is the first and most obvious way to change the revenue stakes. A bidding war with ESPN/ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, other sports channels and maybe even increasing with streaming rights could change the impact of these games.
These games feature good student-athletes who are fighting hard for a win. Not a guarantee of a good game. But it will be competitive. With creative marketing; they could be become more watched games as well.
Most of these schools travel well. This might be the highlight of their season, outside of the chance to beat an FBS school. As a result, this is a focus for the school and fan base. Increasing the interest for the game.
Also, if these games are hosted either; the stadium might be able to also host an FBS bowl as well. Doubling their revenue. Innovative way to make more money for these bowl/businesses that will help keep them relevant.
Army beat Houston 70 – 14 in the Armed Forces Bowl. Army is a methodical running team, have been since I matriculated there in the 1990s. Army leads the nation in time of possession at close to 2/3 of the game. They are not a high scoring offense though. Their only common opponent, Navy, did indicate a game with a score so high. Not sure if that is an accurate portrayal of either team on the field. It also tied the record for both points scored and win margin. Keeping in mind that Houston was ranked 6 at one point this season, though my earlier posts show my complete distain for polls. Either way, not sure if that is the best bowl/business move for the Armed Forces Bowl.
Changes might be coming.