How the BCS keeps small bowls alive

Oklahoma Sooners fans celebrate as the Sooners scored a touchdown against the Connecticut Huskies during the second half of the Fiesta Bowl college football game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, January 1, 2011. REUTERS/Joshua Lott (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

I’m reading Death to the BCS, an excellent book about the truth behind the Bowl Championship Series written by Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan. It’s an eye-opening read about how the bowls are fleecing colleges under the guise of non-profit (or charity) status. I really can’t recommend the book enough.

Here’s an excerpt about how the BCS keeps small bowls alive:

Know this about the bowl system: It is not subject to a free market, and this is where the future of the smaller bowls comes into play. If left alone, the minor bowls would collapse, and they would collapse spectacularly.

The BCS operates much like a government, offering a form of welfare to ensure the survival of small bowls. Industry insiders estimate just fourteen of the thirty-five current bowl games are self-sufficient. The rest profit from a system that takes money from universities and guides it into the pockets of bowl operators.

It’s more shell game than bowl game. Take Minnesota, which agreed to buy 10,500 full-price tickets to the 2008 Insight Bowl in Tempe, Arizona, according to records the school filed with the NCAA. When Minnesota sold only 1,512, it incurred a $434, 340 loss on tickets alone. It spent an additional $1.2 million on travel costs and other expenses. In the end, it cost Minnesota $1.7 million to collect the bowl’s $1.2 million payout. In a vacuum, Minnesota’s bowl experience would have been at least a half-million-dollar financial drain.

Power conference teams are willing to lose money on smaller bowls because their league peers cover the losses by participating in BCS games with $19.8 million payouts. The Big Ten pooled its bowl payout money and cut Minnesota a check that covered nearly all of its expenses.

Meanwhile, the Insight Bowl enjoyed its guaranteed ticket revenue. Despite close to 25,000 empty seats, it turned nearly a $1 million profit, according to tax records. In essence, the Rose Bowl funded the Insight Bowl. This is how the system works. As long as the Big Ten agrees to an arrangement that cuts into its big-game profits, small games will go on forever. If the Insight Bowl operated in a real marketplace, Minnesota wouldn’t play in a game that required it to pay its own way for nearly a week or buy full-price tickets it can’t sell. In 2009, the bowl drew an anemic 0.4 television rating. Left to make an honest living, the Insight Bowl would likely wither and die.

This doesn’t bother the Cartel [Ed note: This is the book’s term for the people that run the BCS.]. Actually, quite the opposite. It keeps adding games that can’t stand on their own. Maybe it’s because athletic directors receive bonuses for bowl appearances. Or because coaches use bowl appearances to fetch contract extensions. Or because conference commissioners push their salaries into the multimillions by citing, among other things, how many of their teams participated in a bowl. Or because none of the suits want to give up the lavish lifestyle provided by bowls: the dinners and the drinks, the golf outings, and the entertainment.

“A few years ago, our ADs came to me and said, ‘You’ve got to start some bowl games,'” [Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig] Thompson said. “I said, ‘You’re going to lose money.’ They said, ‘I don’t care.'”

This is just one example of how the current system is siphoning money from colleges and universities (an expense which no doubt gets passed on to parents/boosters in the form of tuition and/or ticket hikes) in order to prop up a bowl that has no business being in business.

Pick up your copy of Death to the BCS today (Amazon, eBay). It’s truly an eye-opening read. I wish we could send a copy to the President of every Division I institution that has a football team. Maybe then something would change.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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