Changes on horizon for bowls as CFP expands to 12 teams

As college football heads toward the debut of a 12-team extended playoff in 2024, bowling stakeholders expect changes from planning through qualifying.

College football’s bowl season began on December 16 at 11:30 a.m. EST with two .500 teams going head-to-head in a 15,000-seat stadium in the Bahamas.

UAB’s 24-20 win over Miami, Ohio drew an average of 822,000 viewers to ESPN. It was the least watched of 39 bowl games on the ESPN networks and one of only two with fewer than 1 million viewers.

For comparison, NBA games on ESPN, ABC and TNT drew an average of 1.5 million viewers on Christmas Day, according to Sports MediaWatch.

There are many bowl games. It’s hard to argue that there are too many.

“We speak regularly to the commissioners, the athletic directors and the head football coaches, and there is no indication that they want to reduce the number of opportunities for teams to attend bowl games,” said Nick Carparelli, general manager of bowl seasons .

As college football heads toward the debut of a 12-team extended playoff in 2024, those involved with bowls anticipate changes from scheduling to qualifying and maybe even some sort of compensation for players for participating.

While the college football playoffs have undoubtedly reduced the importance of bowl games, they are not going away. And a bigger playoff could be a chance for the bowl season to reinvent itself.

“I actually think the extended playoffs could create a necessary, helpful split,” said ESPN vice president of programming Nick Dawson. “And I think you can draw a clearer line between those 11 games is the playoffs and that other pool of games is the bowl season.”

Bowl season is no longer just a span of time; It is an organization renamed from the old Football Bowl Association.

Carparelli, a former deputy commissioner of the Big East and Under Armor boards, advocates bowls and seeks to organize them in ways that have never been done before.

“Every bowl game is different and the definition of success for one bowl game can be very different from another,” he said.

A larger CFP beginning in mid-December means the bowl schedule will need to be rearranged around the playoffs, which will likely require 11 television slots with no competition from other college football games.

All stakeholders in the CFP have expressed a desire to bring the media rights for the expanded format to an open market after the current 12-year deal with ESPN expires in 2025. It would be surprising if a new CFP deal didn’t span multiple networks.

Conventional wisdom holds that if another network has rights to the CFP, it would be motivated to acquire the rights to other bowls to promote the big event.

“I expect competition,” said Dawson.

All bowls outside of the CFP have their own media rights deals, although ESPN owns and operates 17 postseason games. At the top of the bowl food chain are what are known as the New Year’s Six games, which are currently part of the College Football Playoffs semifinal rotation.

These games seek to remain part of the new playoff model, which will include first-round games played on campus. Carparelli has already reached out to the conference commissioners who administer the CFP, urging them to consider even more bowl attendance.

However, the reality is that maintaining the same level of shell involvement could be difficult. There have already been calls for more games on campus in the 12-team format, and CFP officials said they are open to it.

The second tier of bowl games is mainly played between Christmas and New Years. They’ve produced quite a few thrillers this season: Arkansas 55, Kansas 53 at the Liberty Bowl; Oregon 28, North Carolina 27 at the Holiday Bowl; Pittsburgh 37, UCLA 35 at the Sun Bowl.

Notre Dame’s 45-38 win over South Carolina at the Gator Bowl and Florida State’s 35-32 win over Oklahoma at the Cheez-it Bowl each drew more than 5 million viewers for ESPN.

With bowls in this division and the New Year’s Six non-playoff games, one of the biggest issues is the opt-out of top players who prioritize healthy health for the NFL draft.

Now that college athletes can be compensated for using their names, likenesses and likenesses, bowl sponsors could agree to pay participating players to promote their business. The Cheez-it Bowl signed four players to a NIL deal to stay in a Cheez-it themed hotel room.

“The shell system occurs lightly in this area because we really want to give the conference commissioners leadership on how they want us to handle it,” Carparelli said.

Opt-outs will almost certainly remain, but perhaps Sugar Bowl-playing Alabama stars Bryce Young and Will Anderson Jr. will encourage more potential first-round draft picks to make it through bowl season.

“You create value for yourself by playing football,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban.

The third tier of bowl games mainly includes the pre-Christmas games. Most of these games feature teams from outside the Power Five conferences, including many owned by ESPN.

Those games could be hit hardest if the NCAA standard for bowl eligibility is raised from six wins to seven, which Carparelli says is a possibility. He expects each conference to reevaluate how much access to the dish it needs.

“As great as the playoffs are, the bowl season is more important to a greater number of institutions and a greater number of student-athletes each year,” Carparelli said. “And anyone who questions the relevance of bowl games, I think, just needs to take a deep breath and accept the fact that bowl games don’t have to enter the national championship equation for them to matter to a lot of people.” Changes on horizon for bowls as CFP expands to 12 teams

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