Originally created 12/31/98

A football fiesta may overshadow the real Fiesta



Like too many appetizers before the main course, the college bowl schedule is leaving football fans feeling full -- with the national championship game still five days away.

The Fiesta Bowl between Florida State and Tennessee will be a relief when it arrives Monday night, the last of 22 postseason games, many of them greeted by empty stands and TV ratings that are so-so. Sort of like the teams involved.

Starting with the Las Vegas Bowl between North Carolina and San Diego State -- two unranked teams -- the bowl schedule offered postseason payoffs to a number of teams with questionable credentials.

This year is the first for the Bowl Championship Series, which created the guaranteed No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the Fiesta Bowl. But that hasn't reduced the number of peripheral bowls that jam the holiday season.

Six wins is the NCAA minimum for a bowl bid. But that number often is accompanied by five losses and translates into a mostly mediocre season. Still, with all those postseason games, teams barely over the break-even mark are needed to fill the bowl spots.

"There are probably 50 percent more bowl games than 12 years ago," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. "The marketplace sets the right number. Who tells a community that wants a game that it can't have a game?

"We're in a world of outlets willing to put the games on television, sponsors willing to sponsor them and teams willing to go to them. They are celebrations for communities, players and sponsors. They are part of the American sports mosaic."

So, there's been the Motor City Bowl and the Music City Bowl. And there's been the Insight.com Bowl, which used to be the Copper Bowl, and the MICRON PC Bowl, which used to be the Sunshine Football Classic and before that was called the Carquest Bowl and the Blockbuster Bowl.

Do they matter?

"I think each matters a great deal to the participating teams, their fans and players," said Roy Kramer, commissioner of the SEC coordinator of the Bowl Championship Series.

Pro Player Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was half empty for the MICRON PC Bowl, despite the presence of hometown Miami in the game.

"That bowl has always struggled," Kramer said, noting the geographical conflict with Saturday night's Orange Bowl. "Having two games in one community is an issue."

The Motor City Bowl had 32,206 fans rattling around the 80,000-seat Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich., and produced a 1.5 rating for ESPN2. This was an improvement over the 0.9 that the Las Vegas Bowl generated.

ESPN's numbers improved to 4.9 for Tuesday's night's Alamo Bowl, probably attracted by Kansas State, which came ever so close to the Fiesta Bowl invitation.

Each cable rating point for ESPN represents approximately 755,000 homes. For ESPN2, each point represents approximately 595,000.

"I'm not naive enough to think somebody is sitting out there through 22 games," Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said. "The public is pretty sophisticated. We watch, but we're in the minority. We're in the business."

Hawaiian promoters came up with a new wrinkle, turning the Aloha Bowl into a doubleheader -- two games for the price of one.

The Aloha Bowl-Oahu Bowl experiment on Christmas Day drew 46,451 fans, but it took four teams to do it. One of the four was Washington, which came in at 6-5. The Huskies lost the game, and then they lost their coach when Jim Lambright was fired Wednesday. The bowl invitation could not make up for a mediocre season.

Tranghese said the glut of games is here to stay.

"I don't see it changing," he said. "There's pressure to place teams with winning records in bowl games."

Into this mix steps ISL, a Swiss-based sports marketing and licensing company that is proposing a 16-team major college playoff.

"The bowls still fill an important role," said Jim Wheeler, an ISL executive who has been talking to colleges about the playoff plan. "But it's confusing and aggravating because it's not a true playoff."

ISL's plan would use the bowls as table-setters. "The BCS would be expanded from one game to a 16-team playoff," Wheeler said. "The semifinals and finals would be bowl games."

The ISL timetable would launch the playoff in 2002 with a pricetag that would reach $300 million a year or $2.4 billion for eight years.

"I am encouraged by the feedback," Wheeler said.