Some advocates of a college football playoff consider the current Bowl Championship Series to be a Mickey Mouse setup.
They may be more correct than they realize.
ESPN, a unit of the Burbank-based Walt Disney Co., broadcast 23 of the 32 bowl games played this year it even owns five of them and is reluctant to transition into a playoff system because it would likely result in a major cut in revenues.
ESPN refuses to reveal its revenue structure on the bowls it broadcasts or the bowls it owns, which are the Las Vegas, Hawaii, Armed Forces, New Mexico and Papajohns.com bowls. In addition to the TV revenue, which runs into the millions for each game, the cable network gets money from the ticket sales, concessions and parking.
The bowl games are particularly important to ESPN during the holiday season with millions of potential viewers off work. Last week, five of the most highly rated cable TV shows were ESPN bowl broadcasts.
"This is the highest rated week of the year for us," said ESPN Vice President of Programming Josh Kruwelitz. "Obviously, college football bowl games are very popular."
Forty years ago, there were only eight major college bowls, most of which had identifiable names like Rose, Sugar, Orange, Gator, Cotton, Sun, Bluebonnet and Liberty.
In 2006 the plethora of bowls has swelled to 32, including such non-traditionals as the Chick-fil-A and Meineke bowls.
"The money gets so big and the number of parties make a wholesale change a reality," said David Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute. "I think that's why we find college football where it is now."
Fox is paying $80 million combined annually to televise the Fiesta, Orange, Sugar and BCS Championship game.
ABC, another unit of Disney, has a deal to broadcast the Rose Bowl through 2014 for about $30 million per year. Alphabet network executives are understandably in no rush to change to a playoff, either.
The universities are in no rush to upset the BCS apple cart, either, since they get payouts from the bowls. This year, the bowls will deliver about $210 million to NCAA schools, up from about $101 million a decade ago, when there were just 18 games.
"If it were to make financial sense and be a financial slam dunk compared to the current structure, they'd find a way to get it done," said Carter. "Having said that, the NCAA does not control college football the way they do college basketball. You have a lot of university presidents and athletic directors who don't want to violate the rich history of the bowls."
And finally, there is a more grassroots rationale for the seemingly endless lineup of bowl games, big-name and otherwise.
"There are several reasons to have these games," offered syndicated radio talk show host Jim Rome. "Gambling, gambling and, of course, gambling."
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