College football bowl games exist to increase local tourism and produce a festive experience for participating teams and their fans. They also provide valuable live television programming during the holiday season for ESPN and ABC. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has made this year’s season challenging. With tourism discouraged and attendance limited, how festive can these games be with virtual pre-game parades and bowl teams mostly confined to their hotels?
Some will decide to stay home for the holidays
The original 44-game schedule has shrunk to 34 as some teams decided to call it a season and spend the holidays at home with their families. Boston College (6-5), Pitt (6-5), Virginia (5-5) and Stanford (3-2) pulled out after a grueling year instead of participating in a minor bowl game with no festivities.
Then there’s the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak on a team before one of the games. What if teams can’t play? One idea that’s been floated is to have a “bullpen” of alternate teams ready, which might not be practical.
Cities and businesses will struggle
Those businesses who have been on life support since March but managed to survive would normally get a much-needed boost from thousands of fans streaming into town for bowl games. Though those numbers will be much less than normal, it’s still better than nothing. The thousands of tourism workers in many of these cities, who have become unemployed due to the pandemic, won’t see the employment and windfall that might come from a bowl game.
What is normal?
Despite the pandemic, there is still high demand for bowl games from teams that want to play in them and viewers who want to watch them. That’s why the system originally expanded from 18 games in 1996-97, to 44 games now, at least during a normal season.
This season, the apparent goal is to do whatever “normal” is possible to achieve for now, before a vaccine is expected to help restore a lot more normalcy next year.