Every SEC football team except Ole Miss could go bowling in 2018-19 but Nick Saban has the best idea for determining bowl eligibility.
Thanks to Nick Saban, Alabama football fans have a different perspective on bowl games than fans of most other schools. Many other schools worry about qualifying for a bowl game. Even most Power Five teams worry about making a top-tier bowl game. Only a few programs are like Alabama football with a legitimate annual chance to make the CFB Playoff.
There are so many bowl games, it is no longer such a high achievement in making one of them. There will be 39 bowl games in 2018-19, more than double the number from 25 years ago. And even more are planned according to a recent tweet. In 2020 there could be 42 bowl games, plus the CFB Playoff national championship game.
In fact, bowl game expansion has been mostly driven by the CFB Playoff and games becoming the properties of for-profit entities. Disney/ESPN is the biggest for-profit player, owning 13 of the bowl games. The WWL is joined by the Yankees, 49ers and the Detriot Lions as businesses who consider bowl games good business.
Average attendance at bowl games has been dropping for a decade. For ESPN, attendance numbers matter little compared to eyeballs and advertising revenue. The declining attendance does not mean college football bowl games are on shaky ground, but rather that the business model has changed.
CFB Playoff a financial benefit to all
The bedrock of the entire bowl system is the CFB Playoff. According to USA Today, after the 2016-17 bowl season,
All bowls combined last season to pay about $622 million to conferences and schools, including $441 million from the Playoff. After $105 million in bowl expenses, conferences and schools combined for $517 million in bowl profit
The money is distributed to more than just bowl participants. All schools benefit and the windfall is sometimes used to feed other programs than just football. Notre Dame, for example, gained almost $3 million in revenue despite not qualifying to play in a bowl game.
The presidents and commissioners negotiated the revenue distribution when the Playoff was created back in 2012. Everyone had in mind to do what’s best for college football, and that’s what they did.
Nick Saban has some ideas about doing what is best for college football. One of Nick’s ideas is that Power Five teams should only play Power Five teams. Such a change would fundamentally change college football.
From the teams struggling for six wins to become bowl-eligible to the teams vying for CFB Playoff berth, the goals would change. The Saban proposal is not to tie bowl games to a hard six wins or for the CFB Playoff to exclude a two-loss team. Saban’s plan is simple, go beyond the won/loss record and just pick the best teams.
Use the college basketball model
At first, such an idea sounds impossible. It is actually quite simple. Pick all the post-season teams the same way the NCAA basketball field is selected every season. A committee, perhaps an expanded CFB Playoff committee would pick the 80 or so teams each bowl season.
A team with a 5-7 record could be chosen over a team with a 6-6 record that played a less demanding schedule. An 11-2 team could make the CFB Playoff over 12-1 teams for the same reason. With Saban’s plan, the bowl lineup retains viability. The bowl matchups would feature teams of similar strength. The CFB Playoff would continue to feature the nation’s four best teams.
The big payoff in the Saban idea is more games against tougher competition for the top programs. College football fans would get to enjoy more big games. It would not necessarily be better for every top team, every season, including Alabama football. But it would follow, using Hancock’s words, what is best for college football.
Does the Nick Saban post-season plan have any chance of ever being implemented? Probably not, until he becomes Commissioner of College Football.