Every year there are plenty of comments about the fact that SEC teams get what some people think is an inordinate amount of bowl invitations—not just to the BCS bowls, but second and third tier bowls as well.
Arguments are made that west coast teams draw bigger viewing audiences and thus should be receiving those invitations. Of course nowadays the SEC is contractually tied in with those bowls, but there were de facto tie-ins long before the contracts were drawn up, and it was the bowls who came to the SEC wanting those contracts, not vice versa.
Anyone who looks at the situation from the point of view of the Chambers of Commerce of the cities that hosts the bowls will see immediately why they are so keen to have SEC teams participating. It's because Shreveport, Memphis, Nashville, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami, Tampa, and New Orleans are all within an easy drive of tens of thousands of fans of every SEC school.
The west coast may have a bigger viewing audience, but people on the west coast watching the game on TV don't occupy hotel rooms, buy means in restaurants, play in the casinos, take city tours, tip the cabbies, and generally spread around the cash that real live visitors to the city do. And that's why the bowls were initiated in the first place—to bring in visitors to the city in a season that would normally be an offseason.
All those cities mentioned have something to offer visitors more than just a football game, and all those cities can be a fun place so spend a Christmas vacation, easily reached in a day's drive or less after Christmas at home by thousands of SEC fans. It's a mutually beneficial situation.
These are not regular-season games where people come in for a weekend and leave. They come for several days and spend as they would on any vacation, not just a weekend football game.
And it's also why the bowls don't want a playoff. That window for vacation is open only during the holiday season. After New Year's weekend, it closes. Supporters of different schools might travel for the game, but not many people will take a three-to-five day vacation in the middle of January.
Also, for the early games, cities like Shreveport, Memphis, and Nashville do not want to be playing host to teams from the west coast and upper Midwest. It's simply not profitable.