How the PAC-12 Bowl Situation Hurts The Arizona and Hawaii Bowls

The PAC-12 Bowl picture remains intact, but to the detriment of two of the Mountain West’s struggling bowl games.

Oregon State and Washington State will not participate in the Mountain West’s bowls this year.
Source: AP Photo/Eugene Tanner

Bowl Season is ten months away, yet significant news regarding the college football postseason just dropped. Yesterday, Brett McMurphy reported the PAC-12’s dispersed members will play in the conference’s former bowl tie-ins in the last two years of the current cycle. The 12 schools spread across the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, and PAC-2 will play in the Alamo, Holiday, Las Vegas, Sun, LA, and Independence Bowls instead of bowls aligned with their new conference homes.

While the bowl picture became a lot murkier, there are clear losers. This ruling means the Mountain West will not have Washington State and Oregon State available to play in their bowls despite the league's scheduling agreement with the two schools. This news is a minor development for most of the Mountain West bowl lineup. However, the Hawaii and Arizona Bowls now miss out on substantial opportunities to improve their prospects.

As hard as it is for many college football fans to admit, the Hawaii Bowl is in decline. Sparse crowds appeared at the last two editions of the bowl game, with 6,605 fans attending the game in 2022 and 7,089 the following year. With Hawaii amid a 4-year drought in appearing in their own bowl game, it is difficult for local fans to be interested in the game.

Hosting a former Power Five school would have revitalized interest in the game. The Hawaii Bowl has hosted just two Power Five schools in 21 edition. This figure, combined with the increasing rarity of Power Four visits to the Aloha State, would have increased the Hawaii Bowl's attendance.

Hawaiian football fans attend Power Five games more often than most games on the island. The Rainbow Warriors’ 2022 game against Vanderbilt sold out, while their 2023 game against Stanford was their most-attended home game of the year with 13,739 fans in attendance. Home games against Arizona (22,396) and Oregon State (26,807) in 2019 also drew respectable crowds to Aloha Stadium.

Oregon’s withdrawal from their visit to Hawaii this season is a microcosm of the college football landscape. Increased season length due to the 12-team playoff and the high-risk, low-reward nature of traveling to the islands to play in a 17,000-seat stadium continues to scare Power 4 schools from playing in Hawaii.

Consequently, losing the opportunity to host Washington State and Oregon State in the postseason is a significant blow to the Hawaii Bowl. Attendance will likely stagnate at its already low figure in the final two years of the bowl cycle.

The Arizona Bowl is the other loser of the PAC-12 bowl decision. With a payout of $350,000, the Arizona Bowl is the third-lowest-paying bowl game. Only the Camellia ($300,000) & Famous Toastery/Bahamas Bowl ($225,000) have lower payouts.

Most of this stems from the inability of the Arizona Bowl to find a steady television/streaming partner. As the bowl approaches its tenth anniversary, its list of broadcast partners consists of Campus Insiders, The American Sports Network, CBS Sports Network, Barstool, and The CW.

The mere possibility of hosting Oregon State or Washington State could have created a profitable domino effect for the bowl. More negotiating power in media rights through associating with these schools would have given them a more lucrative TV deal. A more lucrative TV would allow them to attract better MAC schools, leading to better attendance and other second and third-order effects.

Currently, the Arizona Bowl lacks a title sponsor. While sensationalizing the bowl’s situation and claiming Oregon State and Washington State’s participation would have saved the bowl, it certainly would have helped its situation. Now, much uncertainty lingers.

Despite the clarity in maintaining the status quo of the PAC-12's bowl picture, the Arizona and Hawaii Bowls hoped for change. Tenuous situations persist without the potential access to two former Power Five programs. Should the bowls continue to decline, the Mountain West and college football fans will wonder what could have been.