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Monday, December 05, 2005

Division I-A College Football Bowls

I actually work with a guy who is making the pilgrimage to Phoenix to watch the Rutgers Scarlet Knights play in something called the Insight Bowl. He's going because he'll have the time to do so between Xmas and New Year's, and because, well, he might not see Rutgers play in a bowl again in his lifetime. That's what he says.

That's right, folks, at 7-4, the Scarlet Knights are going to their first bowl game in about 25 years, ever since the long-since-deceased Garden State Bowl, where, hint, they might have had an in because, well, the game was played in winter time in The Meadowlands. That Greg Schiavo, the Rutgers coach, has done a nice job isn't really a topic for debate. Whether Rutgers, any other 7-4 team or the bevy of 6-5 teams that are playing in bowl games deserves post-season kudos and a trip somewhere is.

That there is an Insight Bowl makes the average fan wonder whether the Lords of College Football have any insight as to what makes a special product. Actually, it makes that fan think that the Lords have actually no insight at all.

If you're a shareholder of a corporation that sponsors a bowl that features 6-5 teams, you might want to question the wisdom of the marketing department and how it decides to spend its dollars. After all, corporations should pride themselves on excellence, as one of the principal philosphical theories behind corporations is that they can do what individuals working separately cannot. Individuals without doing their homework can make bad investment decisions; corporations are not supposed to make such bald-faced bad ones. What good will can you possibly generate if you're sponsoring an event with two 6-5 teams? Except, perhaps, if you're the creators of the TV show, "The Average Joe." And, the last time I checked, there isn't a bowl by that name.

If you're someone who takes some time off at year's end, you might question what you're doing with your free time if you're watching a pair of 6-5 teams square off. Is it that you have too much free time, you have a gambling problem, or that you have relatives who are walk-ons and play for the scout team for one of the participants? Otherwise, I think you'd be better off spending your time painting that spare bedroom, going to the gym or reading a good book.

Stewart Mandel of SI rates the 28 bowl games here. The last time I checked, there were something like 117 Division I-A football teams. So, if you make it into a bowl game, you're in the top half of all D-IA teams. If you don't, well, your coach probably has contacted a realtor and could well be planting the seeds for his next job. Unless, of course, he's taken over from the guy who sold his house last year, and is in a rebuilding stage. Either way, the sad state of Division I-A is such that they won't shed their avarice and some pathetic bowl games for a playoff system. As much as I don't like a Congressional investigation into the BCS, those who perpetrate this system might deserve it, and vice versa. Let them have at each other.

Let's see, only 22 days to watch 7-5 Colorado play 7-4 Clemson in the Champs Sports Bowl. Colorado just lost, 70-3, in the Big 12 Championship Game. By how much more would they have had to lose that game in order to prompt a typographical error and play in the Chumps Sports Bowl? And if you're the Champs Sports people, what on earth are you thinking? That you'll sell a bunch of Clemson and Colorado jerseys in your stores? There are many other examples of slightly above average teams playing in bowl games, so read the entire link and decide which ones are your favorites.

And then there's the BCS of course, who somehow let Florida State limp into a major bowl game with four losses. Atop that disaster, they paired the #22 team against #3 Penn State, which deserves a better opponent, so that we could witness Bobby Bowden coach against Joe Paterno, two guys who were almost alive when the Chicago Cubs last won a World Series and whose combined ages total more years than most U.S. universities. What's the point? Whatever happened to pairing the best teams against one another?

In an age where there weren't many choices on TV, the New Year's Day Bowl Games were magical. The best teams played in the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton Bowls. We would flip channels at times -- two were on at 1 p.m., one was on at four and one was on at eight. You didn't have dishes, seemingly dozens of cable channels offering games every Saturday, and you didn't have games on any day of the week except Saturday. You watched the scores after the game, posted on hand-created boards, and a guy named Dave Dials reported on Princeton versus Dartmouth as if it were a key NFL contest. There wasn't much flash and dash to it, just plain reporting. It's all that was there, but it was plenty.

Today, the networks and colleges have combined to oversaturate us with bad football games. That cheapens the quality of the product, which can be very good when at its best. It also gives rewards to the mediocre, which detracts from those who, through their success, earned the right to a post-season stage. If half the teams in Division I-A get that type of reward, is it a reward at all?

The answer here is no.

I, for one, will be reading those books or tuning into as many college basketball games as possible.


Blogger Jonathan said...

Sports Prof,
I have to disagree with you yet again. Point number one, there will never be a playoff system like the one that is being employeed in 1 AA. The reason being is that college athletic programs count of the bowl payout to help pay off the deficit that each program accrues. Exposure is another reason. Many of the schools that participate in bowl games never have the chance to play on national television, i.e. Arkansas St. As I have stated before college athletic programs are marketing tools for the universities. This is termed the Notre Dame theory, in which you build a university around the athletic department much like Notre Dame did when Rockne took over. Finally bowl games rewards boosters, alumni, the players, and fans. Fans need extrinsic motivation in order to fuel their intrinsic pride and bowl games give fans pride. This pride increases donations, season ticket renewals,and merchandise sales. It helps fuel the system financially.
Take Miami for example, they were going to drop football in 1979. Look at what a successful football team has done for them, aside from all the negative off the feild issues.
For teams, not in the BCS, what is there to play for if there isn't a bowl game? I believe that the bowl game system makes the game even more competitive because every game counts, unlike in college basketball where teams have gone to the tournament with losing records. You can't do this in college football.

In terms of the announcers I have taken this on as my goal in life. I have written about it several times on my blog

2:00 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...


That so many teams make bowl games makes the regular season worth about as much as the NBA's and the NHL's. As for marketing tools for universities, as a matter of practice I think that's just plain wrong and underestimates most American kids, who I trust are picking schools because they can meet their needs and are affordable, not because some kid can shoot 50% from behind the arc or can throw a spiral 60 yards downfield. As for rewarding the boosters, alumni and fans, I don't get it. Why should they get a reward at all? My view is that education should be paramount, period, and that the ultimate reward should be how a school's graduates fare in the real world. There's a link today on USA Today that suggests that many teams going to bowls fail to meet performance criteria for academics. That's what should matter -- how well student-athletes fare -- not the egos of some boosters.

I think it's been proven that performance on fields doesn't make schools more attractive or increase alumni donations. The "Flutie" factor, which supposedly increased applications and donations to BC after Doug Flutie's on-field heroics in the early 1980's, is an urban legend. It didn't happen. I also don't think that Miami's football team has done much for the school at all. Has Miami advanced its stature with potential applicants? Has it increased its rating as an academic school? I don't think so. I also don't think that football programs bring money into schools other than to, in certain cases, fund other schools in DI programs, perhaps enough (8 in total) to keep a school eligible to be in Division I.

As for the Notre Dame theory, let's not demean Notre Dame. I don't know what Knute Rockne did more than a half century ago, but Notre Dame is in the top percentiles in terms of graduating its players and in requiring rigorous academic standards. It would be nice if other DI schools tried to emulate Notre Dame, but few do.

9:31 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

You have to look at the bowl situation from differnt point of view. There are 117 D1 schools and about 20 schools,of the 77 BCS schools, that have legitimate chance to make it to a BCS bowl. In terms of increasing revenue to schools after a winning season you need to look at the Basking in the Reflected Glory Theory of sports marketing. In terms of Alumni and why they need a reward, who do you think pays for the buildings on campus, donates money to the school's general scholarship fund (Not Athletic), who do you think bail out schools when they aree in the red, who donates to the advancement of technology, the art gallery, the library. The government? No, it is the alumni.

In terms of Norte Dame, that is how they built their reputatuion. It was a small Catholic college at the time. How else were the Catholic immigrants going to find out about a small Catholic school in Indiana.

You seem to approach this issue as if universities were operating under the same principles as Ivy league schools. College sports are quasi professional leagues and they are run like that. You have players on the team that are there for the sole purpose to boast GPA's and the graduation rates. Look at Duke why do so many of their BasketBall players major in Sociology? Could it be a front? Schools manipulate the graduation rates and gpa's.

The revenue generated by football programs, in the majority of the cases, pays the athletic budget. An example last year the University of Tennessee generated $539,000 off the sale of the #16 jersey. This is not including the revenue generated by other merchandise. That is a mighty nice revenue stream because of Football.

You minimize the effect that schools sports program have on the decisions of potential students? In many cases potential students aren't going to hear about the school other wise. People choose to go to universities, because of sports, everyday.

10:51 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Can't agree with you about the correlation between alumni donations and appearances in bowl games. What's the basis behind it? I'm willing to be convinced, but I doubt that lead donors give to a cancer center at Oregon State because they get into a bowl game. I think that alumni deserve more credit than that. I also don't think that going to a bowl with a 6-5 team adds much to the satisfaction of the average alum of the average college.

I do agree that revenue sports pay for non-revenue sports, but that's self-perpetuating. I still remain unconvinced about the marketing aspects of it and the attraction of kids to the schools. I think that's overblown, that somehow Valpo gets more applications because Bryce Drew hit that shot about 5 years ago.

I'm actually not approaching this from an Ivy point of view. I have my own criticisms of the Ivies' approach which I'll articulate in a blog post later on. I approaching this from a practical point of view that emphasizes education over athletics. I don't totally subscribe to Murray Sperber's "Beer and Circus" point of view, but I do subscribe the the overall goal that students should get good educations, should not agree to getting warehoused, and shouldn't get bought off because their team goes to bowl games every year and appears in the NCAA hoops tournament two out of every four. I don't think the emphasis on football to the degree it exists helps that goal.

By the way, I also don't think that the "marketing tool" approach works for non-BCS teams. Do kids really choose Central Michigan over Western Michigan because the former did better than the latter on the gridiron the two previous years? Kids in Iowa might choose Iowa over Iowa State, but for many of them the out-of-state tuition costs would prohibit a choice, for example, between say Iowa and Michigan. As a result, I think the marketing aspects, to the extent that they exist, have their limits.

1:35 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Now, I am going to break a rule that I have and assume, because you are a professor, that you are familiar with certian aspects of other universities academic programs, such as Penn's Wharton's School of Business is a really good business program or that Michigan has a really good law program. Put yourself in the average Joe's shoes. When I ask you to tell me something about Notre Dame. Miami, Va Tech, Duke, or UCLA, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Their sports program. NCAA sports programs are an introduction to the university. Until the 80's what could you have told me about Georgetown? Sports help create an exciting environment "Party School" for potential students. There are many cultural aspects that surround sports that are to complex to discuss in one comment.

I will agree with you about the education aspect of college but in today's environment the system,in which you described above, exists. I have experienced it my self, when I was teaching at a university. Students don't really care about learning anything all they truely care about is getting a passing grade and moving on to the next course. I could talk about this for hours but it would only depress me. I try and not discuss the education system and it's many problems because my head will explode, from anger.

Now in terms of Valpo. You proove my point, how would anyone know about Valpo if it wasn't for that glorious shot against Ole Miss? Think about sports programs as a consumer brand. Every year around the tournament, Valpo receives brand recognition due to that one shot, therefore new people are introduced to the Valpo product. So you see the shot then you begin to wonder where it is. You type in the name on google, bam! You are at the website, being introduced to even more aspects of the Valpo brand. Now if ten potential students do this, your sports program has helped you.

In terms of the 6-5 team going to a bowl, it depends on the expectations of the fans. That is why I chose Arkansas St. because they have never been to a bowl. Therefore this creates excitement for your program. It helps legitimize the money being spent to have a program. 2001, Memphis goes to the New Orleans bowl and sends 12,000 fans, we had never been to a bowl before. Going to that bowl has helped us recruit players from other parts of the country because they had a chance to see us on TV. That bowl has led us to two more bowls and our players are now receiving national attention because of the attention we began to recieve from this. Going to a bowl adds equity to your brand. Type in FutureBrand, into google, and look for the team valuation that they did in 2000. While these are professional teams the concepts apply to college programs.

4:52 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

I am not a professor and don't desire to be one. I think we've exhausted this debate and have to agree to disagree. Good luck with your blog, I'll link to it when I get the chance to do so in the near future.

6:30 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

I, quite enjoyed our debate and the one before that. You keep me on my toes and I have to think about why I am defending my point of view. Plus, I am currently doing research on this topic for a presentation in May and now I have some weaknesses to look at. Thanks for teh link, I really appreciate it and I will do the same for you on my blog. If you haven't guessed I am a pretty regular reader. Feel free to take me to task any thing you disagree with on my blog. Thanks again Jonathan

8:11 PM  

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