It’s beginning to look a lot like bowl season

By: Wally Hall
Published: Sunday, December 16, 2012

— Now that all the hires have been made, it looks like the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State landed on their feet and are moving forward.

During all of that, Arkansas-Pine Bluff captured the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship.

On its way home from the game, the bus stopped in eastern Arkansas for dinner and the players and coaches were swamped by people wanting pictures.

That’s a feel-good story, but it ended with the conference championship because the SWAC doesn’t participate in the playoffs.

Central Arkansas did for the second consecutive year and celebrated a Southland Conference championship.

Henderson State and Harding University went to the playoffs, too.

So while Arkansas’ two biggest football-playing schools were finding new coaches, there was successful football being played in the state.

Of course, before anyone could even take a break from the country’s favorite game and think about Christmas, there were two bowls Saturday. We weren’t even to the ninth day of Christmas and ESPN was giving us a couple of bowls that were about as interesting and significant as chicken soup without the chicken.

By the time the Bowl Championship Series title game is concluded, we will have been treated to - or suffered through - 35 bowl games.

And, to be honest, most of those are interesting only to the fans of the teams involved.

Oh, sure, there will be some exciting games, the kind that come down to a game-winning field goal as time runs out, but you won’t know that by just looking at the schedule.

The glut of bowls is all ESPN’s doing.

It needs programming, and it needs to sell advertising.

That’s how college football has become too much of a business. To tie up the big conferences, the networks, including Fox, CBS, ABC and NBC, throw tons of money at the leagues.

The leagues distribute the money to the schools, and the schools promptly raise the coaches’ salaries to almost insane figures while very little of the revenue actually goes to the university.

It primarily funds athletics, but only 22 programs actually operate in the black.

Texas raises more money than any school in the country, about $150 million, but it spends $133 million.

Of the top 10 spenders in college athletics, four are from the SEC: Florida ($107 million), Alabama ($105 million), Auburn ($100 million) and Tennessee ($98 million).

Arkansas is down the ladder, but it is one of the 22 that makes money, and it may be the only one that actually budgets $1 million to the university, which really makes sense if you think about why colleges exist. That $1 million seems low when the football coach makes $3.2 million, and that’s actually not a shocking sticker price anymore when guys like Nick Saban are pulling in more than $5 million.

The schools with the biggest budgets have something in common. They generally win.

Anyway, the bowl season kicked off Saturday with the New Mexico Bowl, which featured a pair of teams that were 7-5, Arizona and Nevada.

Albuquerque is an interesting city, but it just doesn’t seem to be a football mecca.

Of course, Boise, Idaho, has become known for blue turf and competitive football. Boise State’s football coach, Chris Petersen, is second in mentions each winter to only Santa Claus.

Boise hosted the other bowl game Saturday, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, which featured Toledo (9-3) and No. 22 Utah State (10-2).

Four years ago, Broyles Award finalist Gary Andersen flew directly from Little Rock to Salt Lake City, jumped in a car and drove to Logan, Utah, to accept the Aggies job. All he has done since then is quietly turn Utah State into an outstanding program.

Bowl season has begun, but some people are more interested in finding the Christmas spirit first.

Sports, Pages 25 on 12/16/2012