Too many college football bowl games, too few fans

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While the College Football Playoff produced little fussing about its selections and was capped by a truly gifted national titlist in LSU, much of the rest of the bowl-game season was a mess.

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The Associated Press analyzed 33 second- and third-tier bowl games on attendance, and the numbers raise a question: Why are they even played?

Consider:

• 23 of those 33 games had an announced attendance of less than 75 percent of stadium capacity, and for eight of the 23 it was below 50 percent.

• Six bowl games — the New Mexico, Cure, Camellia, Pinstripe, First Responder and Famous Idaho Potato — had their smallest attendance ever.

• A 1 percent increase in announced attendance over last season can be attributed to the Gator Bowl leaping from 38,206 for Texas A&M-North Carolina to almost 62,000 fans for this season’s Indiana-Tennessee matchup.

Furthermore, the announced attendance figures are often wishful thinking: The Las Vegas Bowl announced a crowd of 34,197; the scanned ticket count figure given to the AP by UNLV, the owner of Sam Boyd Stadium, was just 16,568. Actual attendance at the Birmingham Bowl was less than 10,000, not the announced 27,193. The New Mexico Bowl announced a crowd of 18,823, but a San Diego Union Tribune reporter estimated actual attendance at around 6,000.

The problem — which isn’t going away: Three more new bowls will debut next season — is often with the matchups.

Just about any team that wins half its games in the regular season gets a bowl bid.

The Camellia Bowl in Mobile, Ala., featured 7-5 Arkansas State against 6-6 Florida International. Just 16,209 people showed up to watch.

The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl featured a pair of teams that wound up 7-6 on the season, Nevada, which had given up 71 and 51 points in losses, and Ohio, which finished in fourth place in the Mid-American Conference.

Not even a trip to the Bahamas could entice more than 15,000 people to go watch Buffalo and Charlotte in the season’s first bowl game.

Since we’ll have to keep enduring Liberty-Georgia Southern bowl-game matchups for the foreseeable future, why not eliminate some of the conference tie-ins and manufacture some more-intriguing matchups?

No. 20 Appalachian State finished the season 13-1 and beat North Carolina. The Mountaineers deserved a better bowl opponent than Sun Belt also-ran UAB.

Same with San Diego State. The Aztecs rode an elite defense to a 9-3 regular season record. Their reward: a date with Central Michigan in the aforementioned New Mexico Bowl. (San Diego State won 48-11.)

Why not, instead pit the Aztecs against a Power Five school like Texas or Utah?

Similarly, the Mountaineers taking on an SEC school like Tennessee or Texas A&M would have made for a more interesting matchup.

This is all moot, of course. The 33 lower-tier bowls generated $99 million in revenue thanks to television and sponsorship.

So get ready for even more mediocrity in 2020-21 as new games are established in Boston, Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Los Angeles, where the Mountain West champ will be sent.

Last week: 0-1

Season: 33-36-1

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About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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