Bowling For Dollars: Revisited

Written May 13th, 2010 by MaliBuckeye

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.


  1. Ian_InsideTheShoeNo Gravatar
    May 13th, 2010 at 6:50 am

    Good post..interesting take.


  2. JimNo Gravatar
    May 13th, 2010 at 8:26 am

    free market capitalism baby!

    it seems like the bowls, in their current incarnation, have reached a tipping point, when teams start turning down invitations to bowls because they don’t have the revenue, then maybe we will see some changes, and I am not talking about a playoff, just a reduction in the number of bowl games

    until teams start turning down invitations, I don’t see the system changing

    oh, and nice job on not selling all your tickets Iowa, way to represent


  3. BrianNo Gravatar
    May 13th, 2010 at 9:01 am

    I’ve been hearing the argument for a while that teams don’t make money on bowls or at least not much, and I say exactly that, if there isn’t some sort of benefit, the universities wouldn’t be sending their teams. The football coach doesn’t have more pull at a university than the presidents and powers that be. There has to be some sort of revenue coming from somewhere else or some sort of bonus to going, other than a couple extra practices a year.

    As for Iowa only making 55,000 on the bowl, who cares. What department at a university makes money anyway. Does the History Department make a profit? No, so Iowa and their football team going to the BCS and making 55,000 is no big deal. Especially when the TV money and getting a cut of othher teams winning bowls helps them out in the end.


    JimNo Gravatar
    May 13th, 2010 at 9:34 am

    “Especially when the TV money and getting a cut of other teams winning bowls helps them out in the end.”

    Only in a conference that splits its revenue between every school like the Big Ten does. Very few conferences have a revenue sharing scheme like the Big Ten, or have an equal amount of money to share.

    That’s why the Big Ten holds so much power in all of the expansion talks. Any school that comes to the Big Ten stands to make tens of millions (depending on the school) more than they are currently making (the Big 12 sharing system is particularly awful), and if a school with a huge draw in a huge market joins (*cough* Texas *cough*) the amount of additional revenue for every school in the entire conference would be staggering.


    MaliBuckeyeNo Gravatar
    May 13th, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    “if there isn’t some sort of benefit, the universities wouldn’t be sending their teams”

    Interestingly enough, in the CMU article the AD says-

    “Bowl games are not profit. It’s the extended value that helps grow a university,” he said.

    The GMAC Bowl was a tremendous reward for the team and an opportunity for CMU to be exposed in a different geographical market, he said.

    Additionally, the GMAC Bowl was the only game that evening and received one of the largest viewing audiences of the bowl season. Aside from the five Bowl Championship Series games, the GMAC Bowl was one of the most watched bowl games, drawing an audience of 3.52 million, van der Merwe said.

    “You just can’t measure that exposure,” Heeke said. “It’s also a chance for us to celebrate the excellence that is occurring in our program. We believe that helps reflect on the whole university.”

    The GMAC Bowl helps inspire alumni to be connected to CMU and donate back to the university, and generates pride among the staff faculty and students, he said.

    “That, I think, is what bowl games are all about,” he said.”

    Although, data shows that success on the sports field does little to impact alumni giving or enrollment numbers. But, there’s at least the belief that it’s worth doing.

    At some point, though, people will start asking- “do we cut back on faculty or scholarships, or give the football team a vacation to Jacksonville?”


  4. BrianNo Gravatar
    May 13th, 2010 at 10:08 am

    I was referring to Iowa with that statement.

    As you said, until teams turn down the invites the bowls will be out of control. I don’t care to hear small schools complain about the cost when they are willing to agree to going to a bowl after going 6-6. There must be some benefit to going other than extra football practice.


    JimNo Gravatar
    May 13th, 2010 at 10:14 am

    I figured that, I was just getting some expansion talk in because it is interesting and I don’t feel like writing an entire post about it.

    Speaking of that, Missouri is open to Big Ten talks. Let’s get the ball rolling on destroying the Big 12 and bringing Texas into the Big Ten.


  5. JimNo Gravatar
    May 13th, 2010 at 11:53 am

    In other news, Penn State fans are whining yet again about not getting any respect, shocker.

    Maybe if they won more Big Ten titles than Northwestern over the past 20 years people would give them more preseason respect.

    I wouldn’t feel too bad if I were them, they are really, really good at volleyball.


  6. BrianNo Gravatar
    May 13th, 2010 at 11:58 am

    I dont’ mind Penn State, but yeah quit whining and beat Iowa and Ohio State with regularity. I find it funny some people have been discounting Iowa. My feeling is that team always seems to live up to or exceed expectations. I will let Wisconsin or Penn State prove they are better before I doubt Iowa.


    JimNo Gravatar
    May 13th, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    I think you are buying into the myth that is Kirk Ferentz a little too much.

    It is interesting that you think Iowa lives up to expectations, because they don’t. They always exceed expectations, but never live up to them.

    For instance, Iowa’s highest preseason ranking in the last ten years was 11th in 2005. They finished un-ranked with a 7-5 record that year.

    Iowa’s second highest preseason ranking over the last ten years was 16th in 2006. They finished the year un-ranked with a record of 6-7.

    The highest they have been ranked and lived up to expectations was in 2004 when they started the year ranked 19th and finished 8th.

    But yeah, Iowa is a master at exceeding expectations… never living up to them.


  7. BrianNo Gravatar
    May 13th, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    I think Ferentz is a pretty good coach, but I guess I miss spoke. I just don’t see that large of a drop off between last year and this year. I don’t know that they’ll duplicate it, but can’t see them losing more than 3 or 4 this year. Which, I’m not sure can be said for Penn State. They have 3 or 4 games, and it’s obviously way to early to predict, that they’ll probably be underdogs coming in to game day.

    That’s where I’m coming From, I think Iowa fans have more of a gripe about no respect than Penn State. There are 3 teams in the conference that return a lot and probably will be better than Penn State.


    JimNo Gravatar
    May 13th, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Iowa has certainly been at least as successful as Penn State over the last decade with a similar number of wins (more in fact, 80 vs. 77) and 2 Big Ten titles each, but Iowa fans don’t whine about a lack of respect.

    That is my point, Penn State fans think they should be treated like some sort of football powerhouse when they have been no better than Iowa over the past decade. That is why I give them a hard time.


  8. BrianNo Gravatar
    May 13th, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Absolutely, I am definitely in agreement there. That was kind of my point, other teams are much more entitled to whining about not getting any respect. Penn State is certainly not entitled. They spent all of last year talking about how great their QB was, and now we are expected to believe losing him isn’t going to hurt their offense?


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