When the SEC and Big XII announced that they would be partnering up to create their own new “Champions Bowl,” it marked a new day in the history of college football’s bowl system. A good day for conferences and schools. A bad day for bowl games.
Eventually, the Sugar Bowl beat out the Cotton Bowl to become the “Champions Bowl” (which will first be played in 2014). The top teams from the SEC and Big XII not already in the College Football Playoff will meet in New Orleans. For the first time, the vast majority of revenue from a bowl game will go to the leagues, not the game.
More conferences are now mulling whether or not to create their own games or — as the SEC and Big XII have done in New Orleans — partially take over an existing one. So why make such a massive shift in the college football bowl structure? Just look to this past year’s Sugar Bowl.
In January an 11-1 Florida team was invited to New Orleans to play Louisville. The Gators appeared no more excited about facing the Cardinals than their fans did about watching that game. Louisville won the contest. Few UF fans showed up in the Superdome to witness it.
Florida sold fewer than 7,000 of the 17,500 tickets that were allotted to the school. “Allotted” is an interesting word when it comes to bowl talk. While it sounds like a gift of some sort, the reality is that Florida was on the hook to buy each of those 17,500 tickets. Meaning the school had to eat about 10,000 tickets. And that played a large role in Florida losing $840,000 for its trip to last season’s Sugar Bowl.
As it negotiates new contracts with all of its existing bowl partners — and potential new bowl partners — the SEC is pushing for lower ticket guarantees. That change has already been built into the new playoff. The major bowls in the College Football Playoff will require only 12,500 tickets to be sold rather than the 17,500 required by the Sugar Bowl.
Once the new SEC/Big XII co-owned Sugar Bowl launches after next season, the leagues will have a working model to represent their vision a new conference-bowl relationship. That will give the biggest conferences even more leverage over the bowls and — if the game’s a money-maker — even more incentive to rejigger the entire college football bowl system.