NCAA loses rating bowl

Despite some bright spots, college football wound up its season with bowl ratings largely off from last year.

The annual New Year’s tradition of college bowl games got a bit more confusing this time around, as changes in the bowl alliance led top-seeded teams to compete in different games from before. So ratings comparisons are made with other bowl games that offered similarly ranked teams.

Thus ABC’s Sugar Bowl, pitting Florida against Florida State for essentially the top bragging rights, scored a 17.9 rating and a 29 share Jan. 2 – enough for a rare Thursday-night win for the Alphabet web – but the contest was still down 5% from the comparable Fiesta Bowl last New Year’s, which scored an 18.8/31.

The Fiesta Bowl (Penn State-Texas) ran for a 10.0/17 on CBS Jan. 1, down 20% from last year’s comparable Orange Bowl, which did a 12.5/20.

On New Year’s Eve, the Orange Bowl (Nebraska-Virginia Tech) did a modest but respectable 7.8/16 on CBS, 24% ahead of last year’s Sugar Bowl (6.3/13), and enough to deliver a Tuesday-night win for the network. And in metered-market overnight ratings also from New Year’s Day, the Rose Bowl (Ohio State-Arizona State) wound up with an 18.8/31 on ABC, down 6% from a 19.4/32 last year. National ratings for that game will be available today, and for other daytime bowls later this week.

Some of the decline is being blamed on the absence of some teams with national appeal, like Notre Dame and USC, from this season’s bowl derby. “A lot of big-draw teams didn’t play in these games,” said one network sports exec. And the new college bowl alliances rendered some other formerly important contests virtually insignificant this year, depressing ratings.

CBS and ABC will again share bowl coverage next year, but ABC has struck a deal for a new bowl alliance package beginning with the 1998 season and designed to create a true national championship.

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