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Bowling For Dollars: Revisited

Well, it’s been a quiet week here in Lake Wobegon, out on the edge of the traffic and smog…

Since USC has received a stay of “execution“, and since everyone’s tired of talking about expansion, it’s as good of a time as any to follow up on rantings from yesteryear (seriously- this is so 2009)

For those of you new to the cavalcade may not remember, but way back in December we had a little three-way with the history and purpose of college football’s bowl season. We looked at how we got here and what it all means, in addition to talking about the real driving force behind this whole thing: Money. Here’s the quick and easy for those of you who don’t wanna’ click the wayback machine:

  1. Bowls have never been about championships or playoffs (only money; first from tourism, now from television)
  2. The money involved in bowls only benefits a few institutions; those who are already financially stable, typically larger schools
  3. Other schools’ bowl experiences are paid for with educational dollars (tax/tuition revenue)
  4. The real money in the bowl system is the tourism dollars, the “Bowl Committees” and “Boards of Directors“- These dollars are tax free, as part of “educational endeavors”

After the 2009-2010 bowl season, the numbers are just as bleak. Our friends in the MAC were especially hard hit; the holiday trip to the festive hamlet of Mobile Alabama cost Central Michigan’s Chippewa’s $188, 903. And it’s not as if they were out spending money irresponsibly-

The football team and coaches spent five days and four nights in Alabama, said Senior Associate Athletic Director Derek van der Merwe.

“All that is required,” he said. “They require you to stay in a certain hotel, they require you to stay there five days, four nights, require you to attend certain events.”

Band transportation was $176,211 and both the band and cheerleaders’ lodging cost $37,848.

The GMAC Bowl required CMU to bring the cheerleaders and the Marching Chippewas to participate in bowl events.

“The band is not an Athletics Department unit, so … the university provided the dollars
necessary to take the band to the game,” said Athletics Director Dave Heeke.

Northern Illinois also took a hit in the postseason losing $271,152 in their trip to Toronto. Not sure if this was due to the exchange rate, although it certainly wasn’t due to medical costs. Their post season total for the last two years is a loss of $425,277.

This issue is not just something felt by the small schools- The Big T1e1n’s own Iowa Hawkeyes only netted $55,000 in their Orange Bowl victory. I say “only” because their bill for the trip to south Florida came in at $1,900,000, including $36,000 in unsold tickets that the school had to purchase as a part of the conference’s agreement with the BCS.

This comes at a time when higher education institutions are cutting back nationwide; the financial crisis hit university endowment investments, has threatened family opportunities to provide resources for students to attend four year schools, has necessitated higher increases in tuition and fees from one year to the next,  and (especially in California) has limited state funding for colleges and universities.

In spite of this, though, more and more funding is being allocated from university general funds and student fees to support and prop up athletic department spending. We pointed this out in point three above, here’s data from a report in USA Today:

More than half of athletic departments at public schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision were subsidized by at least 26% last year, up from 20% in 2005. That’s a jump of $198 million when adjusting for inflation and includes money from student fees, university support and state subsidies.

The increased support for athletics comes as student groups and other critics assail the rising cost of college, which has climbed precipitously in the last decade. During the recession, many states have scaled back their appropriations for higher education, and endowments have taken a beating at even the largest of institutions.

Meanwhile, among a quarter of the 220 public schools studied in the NCAA’s top-level Division I, athletic departments’ expenses exceeded total revenue — including money from subsidies — in at least three of the last five years.

In spite of the fact that the bowls are costing institutions money during a time when institutions are cutting back across the board except for athletic subsidies, the bowl machine continues to roll onward, expanding to 35 games next year.

This means, that unless there are some teams that are allowed to send their second teams or allowed to attend multiple bowl games, the college post-season will need 70 teams to fill all of those stellar match ups. Since there’s only 120 or so teams in Division 1 (Bowl Subdivision), this means that 58% of teams will get to play in the prestigious bowl opportunities.

And we’re back in Lake Wobegon, where “all the children are above average“.


According to the fine writers at the Wiz of Odds, this would create a problem, since the 2009 season only saw 71 teams meet the 6 win requirement that the NCAA has for bowl eligibility. Never fear, dear reader- the NCAA is working on a plan that would allow for teams who finished 5-7 to get to play in the bowls as well.

In other words, the bowls are about two steps away from becoming the “participant” ribbon of college sports.

Of course, the logical solution for this would be to do away with some of the bowls (in 1996 there were only 18), since the odds are that these “have nots” that finish below .500 would also be schools that might struggle to have self sufficient athletic departments. They also would most certainly struggle to excite their fanbase about their bowl opportunities, and might miss their mandatory ticket targets.

But, as we know, the world of college sports is filled with folks for whom logic is as unfamiliar as a salad in Queen Latifah’s fridge (thanks, Shark!). Especially when a solitary television network owns both the rights to the BCS and the controlling sponsorship interest in a number of bowls, it all comes down to the bottom line.

And, unfortunately, that bottom line has little to do with student athletes.

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