What A Nice Little Racket.

It was a fairly innocuous discovery in and of itself, and I don’t know if this has already been blogged about in any significant manner, but I was reading Yahoo columnist Dan Wetzel’s reader response column on his 16-team playoff system (one I like, for the most part), and this particular response to one e-mail about announcers being in the pocket for the current system struck me (boldface mine):

Announcers work for two groups, the conference (in that case the Big Ten) which is staunchly in favor of the current bowl system. And ESPN, which broadcasts tons of bowl games and has contracts with the conferences and, in the most ridiculous of conflicts, even owns five bowl games (Las Vegas, Hawaii, Armed Forces, New Mexico and Papajohns.com).

It’s not a real shock they’d spew the propaganda. Neither is it a shock that ESPN’s myriad outlets won’t tackle this issue – the one fans overwhelming care about the most – in any in-depth, significant or intelligent manner.

We all know about the Four-Letter’s co-ownership and airing of the Arena Football League, but since that’s a minor sport, it’s dismissed as such. However, this is a bit more serious, and it was easy enough to find verification of it via a press release on the Papajohn’s.com Bowl web site from last year.

The annual game will match a team from Conference USA against a bowl eligible team from the BIG EAST Conference. ESPN Regional Television also owns and operates other bowl games, including the Sheraton Hawai‘i Bowl, Pioneer Purevision Las Vegas Bowl, Fort Worth Bowl* and the recently announced New Mexico Bowl, which will also debut Dec. 23.

(*The Fort Worth Bowl became the Armed Forces Bowl last year.)

Has this ever been disclosed on ESPN telecasts of these games? I know every manner of corporation has gotten in on the act of owning, operating and sponsoring bowl games (and in the cases of the Peach and Citrus Bowls, removing the traditional names to promote the sponsor), but this goes beyond the usual: this is creating a live sporting venue in order to broadcast it on your network, and I doubt they disclose during the games that ESPN organized the bowl and invited the teams.

No wonder all its analysts are able to say with a straight face (much like Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit did on Sunday night) that the BCS and bowl system was able to do what it was intended to do: their employer has a hand in the low-level bowl pie to make money off of. Let’s see whose fanbases will be contributing, via the bowl schedule:

  • Papajohns.com Bowl – Cincinnati vs. Southern Mississippi
  • New Mexico Bowl – Nevada vs. New Mexico
  • Hawai’i Bowl – Boise State vs. East Carolina
  • Las Vegas Bowl – UCLA vs. BYU
  • Armed Forces Bowl – Cal vs. Air Force

I’m not quite sure why the NCAA continues to depend on a system where outsiders control the money flow, the sponsorship, and the organization — yes, it may be tradition, but when you have bowls being run by the people your conferences have TV agreements with, isn’t there a bit of a line crossed here? Either way, you can’t or won’t discuss alternatives to the bowl system as it stands if you stand to make money off it — as well as money for those institutions you invite to participate.

Nice racket you run here, folks. Shame if something ever happened to it.

Update: First Take did have its analysts, including Pat Forde, to actually discuss the plus-one and eight-team models this morning, but it’s still dependent upon the BCS bowl racket to do so.

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17 Responses

  1. [...] links: ESPN’s reason for being anti-playoff … Hockey bloggers attack … Buy Romo’s high school jersey … Bill Walker pees [...]

  2. You’ve got to be kidding me. ESPN has been shilling loudly for a playoff for the last two months, and indeed for the last two or three years — because the TV ad revenue they’d make televising playoffs would far exceed what they make off the dang New Mexico Bowl. The truth is that there’s no need for a playoff, primarily because it won’t solve anything. All it will do is shift cash from the bowls (most of which are non-profits who put revenues back into the community where the bowl is played) and into the pockets of the Worldwide Leader. The current system works just fine.

  3. “The current system works just fine.”

    Right. Please tell this to Missouri this year, Auburn in 2004, USC in 2003, etc. Just because a playoff doesn’t take care of a near unsolvable problem doesn’t mean the sport should stick with an outdated manner of deciding a champion.

    ESPN has agitated loudly solely for the plus-one model; I’ve heard very little serious discussion or advocacy of an eight or 16 team playoff. The plus-one is a joke, as far as a solution goes.

    As for ESPN and telecast rights and revenue: it already broadcast the majority of the bowls on its networks and still handle the Rose Bowl telecast for ABC, losing rights to the other games only recently to Fox.

  4. ESPN has too advocated (as much as is to be expected) for a playoff model, and has for years. The NCAA simply doesn’t want a playoff for whatever reason, so the discussion has slipped towards a plus-one.

    Back to the original question, I would seriously doubt ESPN makes much money at all (if any) off most of these bowls they own, so I don’t see the problem. Teams that maybe don’t deserve a bowl get to play, fans get another game to watch. I too, don’t see a problem with this.

  5. The current system is flawed IF its goal is to fairly determine the best team in the nation.

    But…what if that’s not the goal? As fans, we generally look at sports and think that determining a true champion fairly is the goal of any system. College football may defy that. Who would benefit from a playoff? Largely neutral fans. Who benefits from the current bowl system? The players (they get bowl games, don’t have to play such a long season), the schools (money and bowl games), the coaches (bowl games to “prove” success rather than trying to make a playoff), a lot of corporations (bowl game sponsorship), fans of particular schools (they get to continue to root for their teams in bowls), networks (they get to discuss/debate it all endlessly).

    College football is very popular: lots of people enjoy it, and lots of people profit by it (financially and otherwise). A playoff would be a fair way to determine a true champion–which would satisfy neutral fans and the players/coaches of a screwed over team. But lots and lots of other people get benefits from the current system.

    That’s why the current system doesn’t seem so ridiculous to me. If it’s goal is to fairly determine a true champ, it fails. If it’s goal is to maintain the popularity of college football, it appears to be either succeeding or in no way hindering it.

  6. Overdog — It’s not as much the money they make off the game that pisses me off. Shouldn’t they at least disclose the fact that they own and operate the game in some way?

    PV — that’s the problem. The popularity of the BCS system comes from the bickering, the argument, whether the polls and the computers “got it right.”

  7. [...] I never knew this but ESPN owns five bowls including the Papajohns.com bowl. What A Nice Little Racket. Signal to Noise [...]

  8. [...] lately — a little more than usual?  Our friend over at Signal To Noise noticed and has some extremely sharp observations.  Read it [...]

  9. [...] Bowl, New Mexico Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, Hawaii Bowl, and the Armed Forces Bowl.  Sports blog  Signal To Noise states, No wonder all its [ESPN] analysts are able to say with a straight face (much like Lee Corso [...]

  10. I didn’t know that either. Strange, how the system “works”…

  11. Wow. I did not know that ESPN had a stake in the very system they so vigorously defend. What a bunch of garbage. Once the conference championships are played I stop paying attention to college football. The “national championship” and they way it is determined is a farce.

  12. If you actually read the Wetzel article, you will see that a playoff would actually HELP the lower tier bowl games, which I might add, totally ruins your crybaby yell at WWL arguement. Wetzel doesn’t want to dismantle the bowl system. Any playoff would only involve 16 or 8 or 4 teams. The rest of the bowl elliiible teams would go to bowls. This means that while Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta are all somehow involved in a playoff, the rest of the bowls can take whatever teams they want. If ESPN owned a BCS bowl, it would certainly have a stake in preventing a playoff. As it is, you’ve just figured out that the easiest way to get hat tips is to bash the WWL.

  13. but guys, “A Playoff is NEVER going to happen.” – Kirk Herbstreit

    F you, Herbie. I wonder how much ESPN pays him each time he says that.

    Yeah, as long as The WWL controls the public’s minds, it won’t happen.

  14. Sounds like a conspiracy to me. Not. I would think more of it if ESPN’s competitor didnt have the BCS.

  15. Omnivore — ESPN has a stake in a BCS bowl. They still televise the Rose Bowl for ABC, and owned the rights to telecast the others before Fox got involved and paid up more. A stake is not simply ownership. That game, whether it hosted the championship game or not in the past, is valuable TV real estate that no one would want to lose.

    As a journalistic enterprise with a news division, at what point should ESPN disclose it owns minor bowl games? It requires more than a press release hidden in the back of the internet.

    Steve – last year was the first year that those BCS bowl games were not aired on ESPN/ABC, I believe. I doubt the thinking shifts that quickly.

  16. My husband and I want to “comment” to anyone and everyone, that will listen, about tonight’s (Dec. 24) ESPN Broncos vs. Charges announcers. They were THE most annoying announcers EVER! As much as we can’t stand watching games on TV in the first place, these guys just made it HORRIBLE! They weren’t paying ANY attention to the game, but that didn’t stop them from NEVER SHUTTING UP! If they would have been talking about FOOTBALL, instead of Van Halen…it MAY have been better, but-JEEZ! I’m not just saying this because my Broncos got their butts kicked, but they made the loss WAY WORSE!
    Thanks for hopefully listening!
    Teddie & Glenn Miller
    (34+ year Bronco Season Ticket holders!)

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