Obama’s First Touchdown: Blue States Take Lead in Bowl Games


What does college football’s schedule of bowl games tell us about American politics?

Here are some unscientific musings on what it all means — figure any football or political point spreads on your own.

Let’s start with this fact: The bowl season would have remained an overwhelming “Red State” affair if Barack Obama had not pulled off his successful raids on Republican territory during the recent presidential election.

Several key college football states flipped from traditional spots in the Red column and went blue November. Indeed, a majority of the bowl games that are set for locales around the U.S. between December 20 and January 8 will be played in Blue states — the first time that’s happened since the color-coded terminology became a popular point of reference for Democrats and Republicans.

It’s a narrow advantage for the Democrats, with Blue states hosting 17 bowl games to 16 for the Red states, and one in Canada. That’s just under 52% of the contests scheduled in states that went to Obama, about a percentage point less than his share of the popular vote in the general election.

Obama’s electoral breakthroughs in several previously Red states accounted for a shift in the landscape of bowl games that appears similar to the shakeup he brought to the Electoral College. A big reason for the shift on bowl games can be traced to Obama’s win in Florida — sound familiar? That’s because the Sunshine State hosts the most bowl games, with seven on the schedule from Miami to Jacksonville this year.

Obama also turned New Mexico, Nevada and North Carolina from Red to Blue, picking up much-needed electoral votes in November, along with one bowl game in each of those states. It turns out that Red states would have held a bowl-game advantage of 23-10 if John McCain had just held Florida. GOP wins in New Mexico, Nevada and North Carolina would have given the Red States a 26-7 advantage.

A review of the participants in this year’s bowl schedule shows again that Obama’s 50-state electoral strategy is playing out on the field, too. Blue states hold a 38-30 edge among the 68 college teams that will play in everything from the San Diego County Poinsettia Bowl to the FedEx BCS National Championship Game. It’s clear, too, that those numbers also would have gone to the Red states in dramatic fashion — 47-21 — without Obama’s success in flipping Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia. Those states represent a shift of 17 teams from Red to Blue. Florida once again leads the way, with five college squads making bowl appearances, followed by four schools in North Carolina; two each from Colorado, Indiana and Ohio; and one apiece in Nevada and Virginia.

The schedule offers a clear warning for any Republican honchos who are still thinking about Sarah Palin as red meat for hungry Red Staters: The Blue state advantage in this year’s football fiestas should put all the emphasis needed on Obama’s success in poking holes in GOP’s traditional stronghold in the Sun Belt, where warm weather has always been a big draw for bowl-game promoters.

GOP elders should also keep in mind that the bowl-game landscape is quite astonishing in light of campaign critiques of Obama as “too urban,” “too cosmopolitan,” and “too-exotic” — or any of the rest of the terms many commentators used when they wished to avoid the subject of race. Republicans should recall that Obama — who is set to become the first genuine urbanite to occupy the White House in 100 years or so — brought the Blue states to the bowl-game lead without any heavy advantage from the coastal metropolitan centers deemed central the Democratic Party’s success.

The fact is that the roster of 68 teams playing in bowl games includes few schools that can be assigned to either the Atlantic or Pacific — only 15 or 20 out of the 68 bowl participants are near the coasts, with the rest from inland areas or southern sections with political kinship to the interior. There are some judgment calls in that count, counting a number of campuses as inland even though they’re in states that do have a coastline. Take North Carolina State, whose Wolfpack made the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Yes, the Atlantic Ocean laps at North Carolina’s land, but North Carolina State is located in Raleigh, more than 100 miles from saltwater’s edge. This analysis also puts schools near the Gulf Coast in the inland category as a matter of spirit rather than geography. The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg is only about 70 miles from the Gulf Coast, but the political climate there is closer to the inland regions that have made big portions of the middle of the country Red on a consistent basis. In other words, Hattiesburg is still more like Hannibal than Haight-Ashbury, regardless of its proximity to the Gulf Coast.

Large metropolitan areas don’t hold much sway in terms of the bowl-game landscape, either. There are some judgment calls here, too. How do you consider the University of Wisconsin, located in the Dairy State’s capital city of Madison? Not exactly a big city, but it’s a good-sized metropolitan area in a mid-sized state, and plenty vibrant to boot. A number of the bowl-game participants come from similar territory, and with a little give and take for such circumstances you’ll see that roughly half of the schools are located in major metropolitan areas and approximately half reside in secondary markets or exurban locations.

Take a look, have some fun, use the Red State-Blue State breakdown to guide your picks for the office pool.

All we can know for certain is that Obama’s campaign proved to be a game-changer in more ways than one — and just 12 days after the last bowl game is finished we’ll see if our new president can play defense.

Jerry Sullivan is the Editor & Publisher of the Los Angeles Garment & Citizen, a weekly community newspaper that covers Downtown Los Angeles and surrounding districts (www.garmentandcitizen.com)