College football sources told @CBSSports there's "strong support" to increase bowl eligibility to 7 wins in 2014— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyCBS) January 25, 2012
Bowl games are, in concept, a good thing for the sport of college football. While I want to see some sort of playoff system put in place, I do not want to see bowls go away. More football between at least decent teams is a good thing in my book, and players get to load up on swag and visit places they might not otherwise go to. Win-win-win.
The problem is that the way the bowl system is set up is bad for college football. Bowls generate value, but a lot of that value is captured by the individual committees that put them on. Only creative accounting methods allow every bowl bound school to come out in the black.
Every year, some number of teams take heavy losses on bowls thanks not only to travel expenses but pricey ticket guarantees. Part of accepting a bowl bid is a school agreeing to be on the hook for thousands of tickets for the game. Inevitably, some schools can't sell out those ducats and have to take losses of $1 million or more. The only reason why this can go on is that bowl payouts go to conferences, who then divide them across all of their members. The higher-paying bowls and high-turnout fanbases basically subsidize the bowl trips taken by teams in low payout bowls and who have low fan turnout at the game.
By raising the bar for bowl eligibility to seven wins, about seven bowls will cease to exist as a result. I'm sure this will largely get spun as a way to ensure quality games and make bowl bids more of a reward than a gimme, but really it's probably not. It's likely that it's a way to cut off games where both schools who attend take a loss but where the bowl committee profits handsomely.
I wouldn't be surprised if this is part of a trend to cut bowl committees out of the postseason entirely. Step 1 is cutting out bowls that don't make any schools any money. Step 2 is schools and conferences putting on their own bowls.
When you think about it, there is no reason why college football bowls need to be put on by independent organizations. Look no further than the Fiesta Bowl scandal and Sugar Bowl scandal to see what some bowl committees are doing with the money they make. Bowls are profitable enough that ESPN got in on the game a few years back and now owns several of the smaller ones. Conferences are fully able to put on conference championship games at neutral sites, so a little haggling with each other over teams and sites shouldn't be too big of a stretch.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already made some noises about doing their own bowls, and it fits in with their existing strategies of making themselves more vertically integrated. I expect other leagues to consider it too. No other sport leaves money on the table by not running its own postseason. That college football does so makes absolutely no sense, and I expect that within a decade or so we'll see that the power brokers have done something about it.