I’m sitting in front of my TV New Year’s morning, watching football. But I’m not watching any Pac-10 teams, at least not until the Rose Bowl starts. Instead, because of the Pac-10’s crappy bowl tie-ins, I’m watching lots of SEC and Big 10 teams. If Nebraska and Georgia Tech get to play on New Year’s Day, why can’t Cal? The easy answer is that the Pac-10’s leadership sucks, but I think there’s more to it than that.
Specifically, I’ve been wondering: how much do the Pac-10’s bowl tie-ins suck, what might be done about it. First, the lineup:
1. BCS (Rose)
4/5. Las Vegas*
6. Hawai’i / Armed Forces**
* next year, the Emerald gets 4th pick, and the Las Vegas gets 5th
** next year, the Pac-10’s 6th pick goes to the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas, instead of the Hawai’i Bowl
The Rose Bowl is always a great way to start. No complaints there. Credit should be given (not sure where it’s due) for keeping the Pac-10 / Big 10 tradition while incorporating the conferences in the BCS.
The Holiday Bowl is a good game in a great location (crappy NFL stadium aside). The payout is over $2M, not far from the Gator Bowl, and it’s got a decent amount of history associated with it (BYU beat Michigan to win the National Championship there in 1984, the only time the champ played in a pre-New Year’s Day bowl). Problem is, the opponent is only the 3rd Big XII team (why aren’t we playing the runner-up from another conference?), and the game is too early (the 28th this year, and it’s never been played later than the 30th).
The Sun Bowl is (I think) a pretty decent 3rd place game. Lots of history here (the game is one of the oldest, played continuously since 1935, and until 1958 it was a New Year’s Day game). The payout is also pretty good (almost 2M), mostly due to the Bowl’s long-running association with CBS, the only non-New Year’s Bowl broadcast by a network. However, the opponent isn’t great (currently a lower-level Big XII team, or a Big East team, or possibly a crappy Notre Dame team), and the game does happen to be in El Paso. Now I’ve never been there myself, but I’ve asked around, and no one’s ever given me any reason to visit. I’m not sure if I’d go if Cal were playing in the Sun Bowl, but I’d at least think about it.
The Las Vegas Bowl was a fun experience last year, and the location sure beats some of the other West Coast bowls, like Albuquerque or Boise. It’s also nice to get the Mountain West champion (I’d take a champ of a lesser conference over the 6th Big XII team any day - at least they won something). Still, I really wish the game wasn’t so early - pre-Christmas bowls just seem to have an extra *lame* factor attached to them.
By the time you get to your 5th bowl, you really can’t be that picky, which is why I’m a fan of the Emerald. Besides being a fan of the location and the name, getting UCLA v. Florida State this year was a big coup. The one knock on this bowl is that, as much as I like AT&T Park, football in a baseball stadium is just weird, and doesn’t really work at all. Hard to take the game really seriously when the quarterbacks keep tripping on second base.
If there’s a bowl in Hawai’i, the Pac-10 should be involved. I don’t care if it’s early or expensive, a December trip to Hawai’i is always a great idea. To bad it’s a trip to Forth Worth, TX next year instead.
Overall, the games aren’t that bad. The common complaint appears to be that the games are too early, and our top teams get matched with lesser opponents, where they can only be upset if they lose, but cannot pull an upset themselves. It would be nice if the Pac-10 runner-up could play the Big XII runner-up, either in the Holiday Bowl or (maybe) the Cotton Bowl.
The real problem in all this is geography. Of the 4 non-BCS New Year’s Day bowls, 3 (the Gator, Capitol One, and Outback Bowls) are in Florida, where you’ll never get West Coast football fans to travel to consistently. The best possibility for the Pac-10 is the Cotton Bowl, which currently matches the Big XII runner-up against the 3rd or 4th SEC team. The game is early (10:30am local time) and it’s in Dallas, but it’s a January game, and the payout is $3M. Hypothetically speaking, would you travel to Dallas to watch Cal take on Nebraska on New Year’s Day? An intriguing matchup, to be sure, but I’m not sure I would make that trip, certainly not as often as a trip to San Diego.
Also, the Pac-10 is the only major conference on the West Coast. Sure, we’d love to play in major bowls in Southern California and Arizona, but getting major East Coast teams to travel out here is difficult. The ACC or SEC runner up isn’t going to come to San Diego, and I don’t see the Big XII abandoning the Cotton Bowl anytime soon. Besides, the Holiday Bowl will never be a New Year’s Day Bowl. Any game on January 1st has to be over before the Rose Bowl starts if you want anyone to pay attention to you, and that would mean a 10am start. Nobody wants to go to a football game at 10am. I think New Year’s Eve is the best one could hope for here.
So, the Pac-10’s bowl tie-ins may not be great, certainly not as good as those of the SEC and Big 10, but I’m not sure what can be done to improve them. The Pac-10 is involved in nearly every decent bowl west of the Mississippi, excepting only the Cotton and the Alamo (does anyone miss the Insight Bowl? Given that it’s now broadcast on the NFL network, I’m guessing that you didn’t watch). There aren’t as many quality teams out west, so the fact that 4 out of 6 bowl opponents this year were ranked is actually a pretty good get by the conference. So yes, not the greatest bowl options for the Pac-0, but get used to it. It’s not getting better any time soon.