With another great NCAA basketball tournament in the books, it's time to ask one important question:
What is wrong with college football?
March Madness continues to rule supreme as the best college-level postseason. Meanwhile, college football's bowl season barely has a pulse. Yes, plenty of people tune in to the top three or four bowl games. But most of the rest of bowl season is a complete dud.
Why can't bowl season be more like March Madness?
The biggest problem with bowl season is that a large part of the bowl games are meaningless. More teams will participate in bowl games next season (78) than in the NCAA basketball tournament (68). Each basketball team that makes the NCAA tournament has a chance, however remote, to win the national championship. It's possible for even the lowliest 16 seed to win all its games and cut down the nets. Of course you'd have a better chance of winning the lottery, but it's still possible.
In short, every game in March Madness has an impact on the national championship.
Under the old BCS system, just one postseason game has national championship implications. Even under the new College Football Playoff, only three games figure into the national championship. Only four teams will have a chance to win it all.
What are the other 74 teams playing for, again?
Currently, teams only have to go 6-6 to make it to a bowl game. However, with the increasing number of bowl games, we could see 5-7 teams go bowling. So, going to a bowl game is turning rapidly into a participation ribbon.
And a lot of those bowl games aren't even interesting. Does anyone care who wins the Little Caesars Bowl? How about the New Mexico Bowl? Is anyone really counting down the days to the New Orleans Bowl?
The TV and attendance numbers back this up. According to AL.com, only seven bowls had a Nielsen rating of 5.0 or higher. Twelve bowl games had Nielsen ratings of 1.8 or less. The Heart of Dallas Bowl drew a pathetic 0.2 rating. Meanwhile, the First Four and the first Thursday of the NCAA Tournament averaged a 5.6, according to Zap2it.
Attendance at bowl games has been steadily decreasing. College football bowl seasons had its lowest average attendance in 35 years, as only an average of 48,989 fans went to each bowl game, according to AL.com. Even big-name programs are having a hard time getting their fans to big-time bowls. Mighty Florida managed to only sell 7,000 of its 17,500 ticket allotment to the 2013 Sugar Bowl, according to Nola.com.
On the other hand, NCAA tournament games have little to no trouble selling out. While it's true that basketball arenas are typically smaller than football stadiums, clearly more fans want to attend and watch the average NCAA tournament game than the average bowl game.
There's no doubt that college football would make more money from a March Madness-style playoff than the old BCS or even the new mini-playoff plus bowl games model. It would be more fun for the fans, players and everyone involved. Yet the powers that be in college football continue to resist anything of the sort.
We've all heard the excuses. Some say that college football's regular season is a playoff. That's baloney. Every team not in a power conference is practically eliminated from the national championship discussion before the season even begins. Teams such as Utah State could have the roster of the Denver Broncos and beat their opponents 100-0 every game, and it would still get left out of the national championship because it doesn't play in a power conference.
Besides, most teams in power conferences play at most two power teams from outside their own conference. How do we really know how the conferences stack up against each other based on a small sample of non-conference games?
The regular season is not a playoff. Not even close.
Another popular excuse is that college football is too rough on players to have a larger playoff. This excuse is also weak, given that the FCS has a 24-team playoff and the NFL has a 12-team playoff. Wouldn't a playoff at the FBS level be a better preparation for the NFL for aspiring pros?
While a four-team playoff is a step in the right direction, it's still too small. The NCAA basketball tournament, once again, provides the example. Since 1979, the four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four just once in 2008. Three or more No. 1 seeds have made the Final Four just four times. Trying to pick the four best teams simply isn't enough.
So, who wants to maintain the status quo?
Obviously, the bowls do. Despite pathetic TV ratings and languishing attendance numbers, the bowls continue to make money because they force schools to buy a certain allotment of tickets. Plus, these bowl games are tax-exempt. It almost doesn't matter if nobody goes to the mediocre bowl games. The bowls will make money anyway. U-T San Diego did a table on how much money bowl games rake in and how much the CEOs make off the game. Even lower-end bowls, such as the Advocare V100 Bowl, made more than $1 million in the 2012 tax year, and the CEO took home about $120,000.3 comments on this story
Power conferences also don't want to expand the fledging playoff. While even the rich in college football would undoubtedly become richer under a larger playoff system, such a playoff would shift some power away from the major conference and give more clout to the others.
Until more fans convince the powers that be with their further lack of attendance and viewership of the mediocre-at-best bowl season, it's here to stay. It's a shame, really. Until things change, March Madness will always trump bowl season.
And it isn't even a contest.
Lafe Peavler is a staff sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.