Story by Scott German
Tuesday’s 2008 Konica Minolta Gator Bowl went down as one of the more exciting bowl games of the season, when Texas Tech’s connected on a game-winning field goal with just two seconds left to stun Virginia 31-28.
Unfortunately it also went down as one of the least-attended Gator Bowl matchups in recent memory.
While ticket sales were announced at just over 60,000, the actual count of fans in seats was estimated at about the 50,000 mark. (Generous by estimation.) On what was just a great weather day in Jacksonville with gametime temperatures in the mid-60s and a rich bowl tradition that the Gator Bowl boosted, I took the opportunity to corral a Gator Bowl Association official to “pick” his brain some on the low turnout.
GBA incoming chairman Brian Goin first praised both schools (Texas Tech, UVa.) for their efforts. For the record, Virginia was credited with just over 10,000 tickets sold, but probably had more like 15,000 fans present. Goin said that the first priority any bowl association has is getting interest from the local population. “We (the bowl association board) have to get out to the local companies and start for a grassroot basis. From there we have to create the interest in the residents to take part in the events leading up to the game, like the parades and concerts.We also have to have the support form the city (Jacksonville) as well.”
Goin also went on to elaborate about the entire NCAA bowl concept. “This is the second year of a four-year plan by the NCAA to go with conference affiliations, or tie-ins,” explained Goin. “In years past, bowls could arrange deals with certain teams at any time in the season, with many bowl matchups decided before even the regular season having ended,” continued Goin. “Now bowls have alliances with certain conferences and are almost locked into taking specific teams – regardless of the marquee factor,” remarked Goin.
The solution? According to Goin,”That’s the problem, the solution will require a lot of people getting on the same page. School presidents, athletic directors, coaches, and the TV hierarchy. And that might be down right impossible,” stated Goin.
When I mentioned the possibility of a NCAA football playoff, it was obvious that while Goin was very cooperative in giving his thoughts about bowls in general, he was quick to take our discussion about that in another direction. “A playoff is not on the horizon. If we can’t get the bowl situation straight, a playoff format will never be agreed upon. We have our work cut out for us in making each bowl game something special,” said Goin.
He then politely excused himself and thanked me for being there. Thinking about the conversation we just had, and let me preface this by saying I am an advocate of a playoff system, the one group of people he failed to mention concerning getting on the same “page” was a fairly significant group – the fans. Without them (and their $), bowls, playoffs, heck, even bowl-association folks, would not exist. Maybe after all the fans do have a voice. They say there is strength in numbers (or lack thereof); maybe in the future continued poor fan support in bowl games will eventually get some attention.
On second thought, I doubt it. Look at this years national-championship game. The Buckeyes of Ohio State vs. two-loss Louisina State University. The postseason isn’t as simple as OSU vs. LSU. It’s about money – lots of it. And the bottom line is that the fans generate most of the fuel for that money flow, they (we) have little or no voice.
Scott German is a SportsDominion correspondent.