Every year about this time, like a bear coming out of hibernation, the pundits begin arguing about college football playoffs. And every year, one hears the same arguments except for the one that doesn't get much prime time: the cash argument. Once upon a time there could have been a football playoff. That once upon a time was back in 1940 when there were 4 major college bowl games and a minor one: the Rose Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, the Sugar Bowl and the Sun Bowl. By 1950, the number of bowls had increased from 5 to 8 and by 1970 the number jumped to 11. By 1980, there were 15 bowls and a decade later we had 19. By 2000, the number leaped to 25 and this year there are a staggering 34! So, in a little under 60 years the number of bowls has ballooned almost seven fold and at this rate, we can expect that by 2010 there should be about 45 of them. Give or take a bowl.
Now we still have the same five bowls that we had in 1940, but they've been slightly altered. We now have the Rose Bowl (presented by Citi Corp which probably took a lot of screaming and shirt-ripping to keep the sanctity of Rose Bowl name intact), the FedEx Orange Bowl, the AT&T Cotton Bowl, the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the Brut Sun Bowl. There used to be a Tangerine Bowl and a Peach Bowl, but you'd be hard-pressed to find any tangerines or peaches since they've been replaced with credit cards and chickens. But along with those five major bowls we also have 29 other bowls and of those 34 bowls, all of them, but one, are sponsored bowls. In other words, the name of the sponsor has either been attached to the name of the bowl or it has subsumed the name of the bowl (e.g. the Chick-fil-A Bowl used to be the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, but chickens and peaches didn't go well together so they dropped the peaches).
Some of the bowls have rather unique sponsors. For example, there is the New Mexico Department of Tourism New Mexico Bowl; the magicJack.com St. Petersburg Bowl; the Ford, General Motors and Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights Motor City Bowl (which will probably go bankrupt after the game); the Enterprise Rent-a-Car Texas Bowl; and my personal favorite the Emerald Snack Nuts Bowl. It's only a matter of time before there may be a Trojan Condoms Bowl or even a Ty-D-Bol Toilet Bowl Bowl.
Because there are so many advertisers that want their brand to be televised and to be a part of the December-January "Bowl Frenzy," it has become apparent why there are so many bowls and why marginal teams with six losses can suddenly become "bowl qualified." As a matter of fact, at this rate, they'll need another 22 teams with six losses (or maybe 7) by 2010 to make up the number of "new bowls" that we could have by then. As long as corporations are willing to pay exorbitant corporate dollars to "sponsor" or even create bowl games, there won't be any playoffs as we may think of them. There's too much money at stake not only for the corporations, but for the universities participating in those bowl games. If you want an entire catalogue of all the bowl games and the cash breakdown for 2008, here's what you have:
New Mexico Department of Tourism New Mexico Bowl
magicJack.com St. Pete Bowl
Pioneer PureVision Las Vegas Bowl
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
Sheraton Hotels Hawaii Bowl
General Motors and Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights Motor City Bowl $750,000
Meineke Car Care Bowl
Champs Sports Bowl
Emerald Snack Nuts Bowl
PetroSun Independence Bowl
Valero Alamo Bowl
Roady's Humanitarian Bowl
Pacific Life Holiday Bowl
Enterprise Rent-a-Car Texas Bowl
Big 12 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces $600,000
Brut Sun Bowl
Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl
Insight Enterprises Bowl
$3.25 million ACC
$2.4 million for SEC
Outback Steakhouse Bowl
Toyota Gator Bowl
Capital One Bowl
Rose Bowl Presented by Citi
FedEx Orange Bowl
ATT Cotton Bowl
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Allstate Sugar Bowl
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
BCS Championship Bowl
If one tallies all that cash, then here's what's at stake: a total of $128,503,000 for an average of about $3,700,000 per bowl. That means the teams involved in the bowl games make for themselves or their conferences almost $1,850,000 each. These teams may be playing for a lot of things: pride, integrity, a winning season, honor, whatever, but the bottom line is cash with five of the bowl games paying out $17,000,000 each. If the number of new bowls continues as it has, by 2010 that amount would increase to at least $165,000,000 and probably more.
Because of the huge advertising dollars, the chances of there being a college playoff as there is in basketball is and will be highly unlikely unless the NCAA decides to pair off the top 8 AP-UPI teams in the oldest bowl games (Rose, Orange, Sugar, Cotton), extend the season through the end of January, have a semi-final, then a final game and be done with it. Finding a major sponsor for the Bowl of Bowls would be easy. Put one executive each from the biggest sponsoring corporations in a UFC cage. Last corporate executive standing wins. If that doesn't work, then wait until January 8 when everyone can hibernate for yet another year before arguing about playoffs again.
Is that Jim Mora I hear in the background, "Playoffs! Playoffs!"