Thursday, January 03, 2008

Cue Harry Doyle

In case you haven't noticed, and based on the TV ratings, you haven't, the ratings for the Sugar and Rose Bowls were way down. If you operate on the theory that the people who run the BCS are motivated by money (and I'm not totally sure that I'm one of those people because everyone agrees that a playoff would generate more money, although the issue might be that the BCS conferences would lose control over that money if they had a playoff because it would have to be NCAA-sanctioned), then low ratings for the BCS games are a good sign. I have absolutely no doubt that Fox is going to be in the ear of the BCS conference commissioners telling them that they want better match-ups next year because they aren't paying hundreds of millions of dollars for games that draw 7.9 ratings.

The Capital One Bowl was the lone exception to the trend of lower ratings and will likely finish as the third-highest rated college football game of the year if the Virginia Tech-Kansas game doesn't produce a big number tonight (and I can't imagine that it will). On the one hand, you can see the high ratings because of the story lines, namely: (1) a long-term head coach at a marquee program retiring; and (2) a high-profile, unique, telegenic Heisman winner. On the other hand, the game might have produced such a strong number simply because it was a close game. I'm a die-hard college football fan and I stopped watching the Rose Bowl at 21-3 and the Sugar Bowl at 24-3. In both instances, the favorite came out and demonstrated right off the bat that they were significantly better than their opponent. I assumed (correctly) that there was no point in continuing to watch when I could bathe my toddler or go to sleep.

Thus, if I'm a Fox executive, I'll be lobbying hard next year for competitive match-ups between teams of roughly equal ability so the games won't bleed viewership in the third and fourth quarters. The BCS commissioners will then be put in a bind. Their TV pay masters will be demanding games like Oklahoma-Virginia Tech and Georgia-USC. Their bowl partners (especially the Rose) will be trying hard to preserve their traditional ties to teams from certain conferences and will be desperate to avoid being stuck with the Danny Devito in Twins Illinois-Hawaii dreg bowl that will be the result of putting the best teams up against one another. (The expansion of the BCS from eight teams to ten brings in more substandard teams, especially when paired with the requirement that conferences only send two teams to the BCS. It's kinda like when the NCAA narrowed the goalposts without narrowing the hashmarks.) They will also be running up against the possibility of a split national champion if they create a #3 vs. #4 or #5 game and #3 looks great. But then again, the BCS commissioners claim that unresolved endings to the season and constant argument thereafter are a great thing for college football, so why wouldn't they want to create a clusterf*** end to the season?


peacedog said...

The money thing is more complicated than that. I think you're right that how the money is divied up would change, possibly for the worse for conferences overall (I'm going to assume here that we've got an SMQ-like format that just replaces the BCS), though one assumes that additional monies will go to the conferences whose teams advance the farthest, so potentially a conference could clean up (but losing one or even two first round games would probably significantly reduce payouts).

However, the conferences aren't the only stakeholders. The bowl games are stakeholders too. Here specifically, I'm thinking of the BCS bowls. I'm pretty sure the bowls take money away from the current setup, though I'm not clear how much. That's probably a big hurdle, since they have an incentive to keep the current system and some clout to help bring that about.

JasonC said...

The Mich-Fla game was also helped by the fact that Florida and Michigan are both fairly large states and both are in the top 15 schools for # of students. So there were plenty of people interested. But the close game was also key.