Bowl season is a special time of year, when major networks broadcast multiple college football games almost every day. There’s no better way to celebrate the holidays than to watch South Carolina and South Florida battle in an exhibition.
However, national interest in bowl season is waning. The football side of bowl games is suffering.
While fans live and die with results of bowl season — even arguing conference hierarchy based on the result of exhibitions — players and coaches perform with varying levels of focus. With so many games, fans are less interested in paying attention to the collective.
However, there could be a solution. Legislation being pushed by the American Football Coaches Association would allow redshirts to play four games and retain their eligibility. Whether the four-game mark is too high is another argument. Letting redshirts play in bowl games is an obvious choice.
Postseason competition is a reward for a great regular season. It allows teams more practices and gives fans a reward after the season. But despite the positives of bowl season, the ratings are slipping.
Per Sports Media Watch:
Of the 39 bowl games on a Nielsen rated network this season, 25 posted a decline in viewership compared to last year and 23 of those hit a multi-year low. That includes a five-year low for the Clemson/Alabama national championship, a nine-year low for the Alamo Bowl, and decade-plus lows for the Cotton, Hawaii and New Mexico bowls.
To be clear, many people watch bowl games. In fact, only one game — the Miami Beach Bowl — drew fewer than a million viewers. But regardless, bowl season is starting to mean less than ever.
One issue is oversaturation. That’s not going to change. There’s simply too much money involved.
However, fans also start to feel the games don’t matter. Alabama coach Nick Saban famously called his team’s Sugar Bowl matchup against Oklahoma a “consolation game” in 2014. LSU running back Leonard Fournette sat out the Citrus Bowl in 2016 to recover from nagging injuries before the NFL combine.
Neither of these incidents necessarily indicates a trend, but each is a worrisome sign for games that are already losing their luster. Allowing redshirts to play would add a significant level of intrigue to bowl games.
Shot of energy
Recruiting is one of the fastest-growing arenas in sports — you don’t need to tell that to a writer at SEC Country. We have invested significantly in expanding recruiting coverage because, simply, fans love it.
Interest in college football prospects does not cease after players get on campus. Just look at Ole Miss last season. When veteran quarterback Chad Kelly tore his right ACL, 5-star prospect Shea Patterson jumped into the lineup as a freshman. Interest in his debut led the SEC news cycle for days. Of course, the conference lost a full year of Patterson since he played three games in 2016.
Think of the spring games too. Tens of thousands of college football fans flock to stadiums just to see underclassmen play and get an impression of how the team will look in the fall.
Now imagine that was true across bowl season. After 15 bowl practices, maybe freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks was ready to play against Iowa in the Outback Bowl. He was en route to being a redshirt. With Texas A&M’s defensive line struggling with injuries, maybe Justin Madubuike could have helped the Aggies beat Kansas State. Georgia’s offensive line was not good — it would have been fun to see if Ben Cleveland could have helped. Madubuike and Cleveland didn’t play because they were redshirting.
Fans don’t watch bowl games for competitiveness — they are fun exhibitions. After sitting out a whole season, letting the redshirts play would make bowl game more intriguing for everyone.