An already bloated bowl schedule may get even bigger
If you happen to be among those who have yet to embrace the existence of the PapaJohns.com Bowl and the International Bowl, or if it makes your skin crawl to see 6-6 teams square off against each other in the postseason, you're probably not going to like what I'm about to tell you.
The 2008-09 bowl lineup could be even bigger.
Next week in Weston, Fla., organizers for three potential new bowl games will make their presentations to the NCAA's Bowl Certification Committee. They are: The Congressional Bowl in Washington, D.C, (Navy vs. ACC); The St. Petersburg Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla. (Big East vs. Conference USA); and the Rocky Mountain Bowl in Salt Lake City (Mountain West vs. WAC).
No, this is not a joke.
If all existing bowls earn recertification, as is expected, and if all three new contests get approved, it would raise the total number of bowl games to 35 -- up from 22 less than a decade ago.
At this point, you may be asking yourself: "Aren't they going to run out of teams?" Many in the bowl business are wondering the same thing.
"There's a lot of concern in our association about adding even one more game," said Scott Ramsey, executive director of the Music City Bowl and chairman of the Football Bowl Association. "One of the worst things that could happen down the road is for the organizers of a game to spend all year preparing for it and then not have enough teams to play. It would give the bowl system a collective black eye."
Just how low on the totem pole are these games willing to go? The Congressional Bowl's agreement with the ACC would send the league's ninth eligible team to D.C -- but the conference has yet to produce more than eight since expanding in 2004. (The bowl's backup partner is the MAC.) And a potential partnership with the St. Pete Bowl would give the eight-team Big East seven guaranteed slots in 2008 (though Notre Dame can take one of them).
The bowl system last expanded in 2006 with the addition of four new games: The BCS' stand-alone national championship game, the PapaJohns.com game in Birmingham, Toronto's International Bowl and the New Mexico Bowl. The NCAA's coinciding move to a 12-game regular-season, along with the elimination of previous restrictions against 6-6 teams and the counting of wins over I-AA opponents, expanded the pool of eligible teams from 59 in 2004 to 73 two years later.
Last season, however, there were only seven eligible teams that did not land bowl invitations. They were Troy, South Carolina, Northwestern, Iowa, Louisville, Ohio and Louisiana-Monroe. Had the three proposed new games already existed, there would have been just one team to spare.
"That's cutting it pretty close," said Richard Giannini, Southern Miss' athletic director and chairman of the NCAA committee that will meet next week.
Recently, Giannini's committee has green-lighted pretty much every aspiring bowl that's met the required criteria (the International Bowl required a second try), and despite the perennial cynicism that surrounds such games, so far the marketplace has supported them.
Last year's 32 bowl games netted an average attendance of 54,078, highest in eight years. The PapaJohns.com Bowl pitting Cincinnati and Southern Miss garnered a modest but respectable 2.26 rating on ESPN2. By comparison, NBA regular-season games on ESPN average a 1.3.
"If the market can bear it, [NCAA schools] have basically voted to have as many bowls as they can," said Giannini. "If all bowls are stable, basically, the market is saying that having that many bowls is efficient."