December 19, 2008

Bowl expansion opens postseason to more teams

Bowl games fit so perfectly with the holiday season. Like children spoiled with gifts or adults gorging themselves on feasts, the postseason has no room for moderation.

The bowl "season" begins Saturday with the EagleBank Bowl, one of two first-year bowls, and runs through Jan. 8. The 19-day postseason will feature a record 34 bowls.

That means 68 teams are in the postseason, three more than get invited to the NCAA basketball tournament. When you add in the NIT and College Basketball Invitational, nearly a third of Division I basketball teams play in the postseason. In football, a whopping 57.6 percent of Football Bowl Subdivision teams will play in bowls.

The number of bowls didn't hit the 20-game mark until 1997, but six new games have been added since 2005. The growing number begs this question: When will this end?

This season, four programs don't think there are enough bowls. Nine 6-6 teams will play in the postseason, with San Jose State, Bowling Green, Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State remaining at home with 6-6 records. Reports swirl that at least two more groups are interesting in staging bowls.

"Any more and you might be pushing the limits," said Dennis Poppe, the NCAA vice president of football and baseball. "[While the] margin of error is small, we have enough teams to fill contract commitments."

True, but not necessarily by the conferences expected to do so. The SEC and Big 12 ran out of bowl-eligible teams before the Independence Bowl had a chance to select its pairing. It ended up with Louisiana Tech (7-5) from the WAC playing Northern Illinois (6-6) from the MAC. Five other games the Poinsettia (Pac-10), Hawaii (Pac-10), Motor City (Big Ten), (SEC) and Texas (Big 12) bowls had to search for fill-ins after one of its contracted conferences couldn't supply a team.

The growing number of bowls is expected to be a major topic when the NCAA's Postseason Football Licensing Subcommittee meets in January. The subcommittee approves new bowl licenses and renews existing bowls.

As long as there are enough "deserving winning teams" eligible for bowl invitations, as the NCAA postseason handbook puts it, the number of bowls could grow. The deadline for groups to file for prospective bowl games is in April.

How much is too much?
Here's a look at the growth in the number of bowls
"The committee is very concerned with the number of bowl games," said Big East associate commissioner Nick Carparelli, a member of the subcommittee. "I don't know if anyone has a solution because the bowl system is a free-market system."

How many bowls would be enough to accommodate all bowl-eligible teams? In 2008 and 2006, 36 bowls were needed. In 2006, the number was 35.

"It would be a travesty not to be able to fill all the eligible spots," said New Mexico athletic director Paul Krebs, another member of the postseason licensing subcommittee. "We're getting to a point where we're maxing out on the number of eligible teams."

Right now, the NCAA has several parameters for the licensing a bowl game, including a level of credit, a sponsor, conference tie-ins, a site and a date. If an aspiring bowl meets these parameters, it can receive a license. To this point, it's been a relatively simple process, Carparelli said.

While the number of bowl slots gets closer and closer to the number of bowl-eligible teams, Poppe doesn't say the process will come under more scrutiny. But he does say it would become more competitive between prospective and existing bowls.

Gary Stokan, the president of the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, has some advice for non-BCS games hoping to keep their spot. Although his game traditionally is in December and features also-rans from the SEC and ACC, his game will have its 12th consecutive sellout this season. Only the Rose and Fiesta bowls have longer streaks.

Stokan says when he looks at new bowls, he evaluates them according to the "three Ts" a quality title sponsor, the television deal and ticket sales. A second-tier bowl must focus on all three to survive.

"They need ticket sales because their title is probably not going to be maximized or the TV deal might not be maximized," Stokan said. "Tickets become the lifeblood in that case. Are you going to do that with people that travel cross-country or people that can drive? That's one of the keys, the regionality. That makes sense for a bowl."

This season could be a critical one for the future of a few existing bowls because of the sagging economy. That affects sponsorship dollars and ticket sales.

"The attendance for most bowls is still good. The other factor we worry about is that not all bowls have the same attendance and TV ratings," Poppe said. "This year could be a telling year. A lot of things could change because of that."

David Fox is a national writer for He can be reached at is your source for: College Football | Football Recruiting | College Basketball | Basketball Recruiting | College Baseball | High School | College Merchandise
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