Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany dropped an interesting tidbit during this week's discussion of projected change in college football's postseason.
He reported that the league did some research with its players about taking part in a four-team playoff. The guys who will do the heavy lifting to add 14th and 15th games to their schedules gave it a thumbs up.
“We had conversations with players on each of our campuses,” Delany said. “They are willing to play the 15th game. And they would like to have it within the bowl context.”
This marks what seems like a rare moment in college athletics. The will of the players is being heeded with a big boost from the will of the people.
Getting away from the Bowl Championship Series “is not coming from our coaches, our presidents or our athletic directors,” Delany said. “It's really coming from people generically interested in college football — the fan.”
The fan has spoken in two ways.
The first is by not attending bowls in as big a number. Average bowl attendance last winter dropped to 50,435, a low mark not recorded since 1979.
The second is through watching something else on TV. Sports Business Journal reported that viewership dropped 15 percent from 6.1 million to 5.2 million for 34 bowl telecasts studied.
OK, so the fans have spoken. Now comes the “be careful what you wish for” warning.
Let's use Nebraska as an example. Harry and Harriet Husker want to follow the team to Indianapolis in early December for the Big Ten championship game. Then it's on to Los Angeles Jan. 1 for a semifinal game in the Rose Bowl.
Then, it's to a city such as Atlanta that may win the bid for the new national championship final.
That's three trips in one month requiring five to 10 days of vacation and a final credit card bill conservatively estimated at $5,000 to $10,000 per person.
How many fan bases pull that off in big numbers in this economy?
“If we were really concerned about fan travel,” Delany said, “we would play 14 games (a plus-one after the bowls) and not 15.
“In some sort of strange way, we are responding to the fans. But there is a price for the players and coaches and schools — and if we go away from our campuses, the fan.”
The idea of semifinal playoff games on campus got shot down quickly. The reason often cited was because smaller campus towns such as Stillwater, Okla., and Eugene, Ore., supposedly couldn't handle the media crush.
Baloney. Don't blame the college football beat writers and columnists for this one.
The real worry was that in towns and stadiums of such size the corporate fat cats wouldn't have enough luxury boxes to sit in and that the national TV stars wouldn't have fancy hotel rooms nearby.
The regular Joes of the newspaper world know that if you have to stay in a one-story hotel in Ponca City, Okla., sniff the refinery fumes all night and then drive the 45 miles that takes two hours the next day in order to cover the game, you do it.
Here is how Delany delicately phrased the semifinal site issue:
“We're trying to find the ‘sweet spot' that accommodates as many interests as we can. We strongly prefer inside the bowls. Outside the bowls is a slipperier slope. Inside the bowls can be accomplished.”
If that sounds like commissioners are tossing their old bowl buddies a carrot, they probably are. But some new stipulations are coming.
“We recognize the bowls aren't perfect,” Delany said. “In fact, they've suffered some pretty serious black eyes. But from a governance perspective and a transparency perspective, we've made some progress.”
Next up for review should be the lopsided agreements that allow the bowls to set unreachable ticket sales minimums. That has left many bowl teams stained in red ink, though it is their conferences' fault for signing off on such deals.
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