College Football's Fleecing of American Universities

How insiders use the bowl system to loot the colleges that support it.

But only about half of the 35 bowls offer payouts large enough to cover team expenses. So the conferences use money from more lucrative bowl games to cover losses from the barkers.

"You don't lose money going to bowl games, at least not in the Big 10," says Minnesota football spokesman Andy Seeley.

But that's true only in a technical sense. In the Gophers' case, the Big 10 covered the university's $1.3 million blemish from the 2009 Insight Bowl. What insiders don't mention is the humongous pyramid of cash schools are leaving on the table.

Minnesota's 2009 trip to the Insight Bowl didn't break the school's bank -- unless you count all the money administrators left on the table.
NEWSCOM
Minnesota's 2009 trip to the Insight Bowl didn't break the school's bank -- unless you count all the money administrators left on the table.
A visit to Tempe for the Insight Bowl is good for the mascots, but bad for their schools' bottom lines.
NEWSCOM
A visit to Tempe for the Insight Bowl is good for the mascots, but bad for their schools' bottom lines.

"They should go take economics 101," says Dan Wetzel, a Yahoo! Sports columnist and co-author of Death to the BCS. "Lost profit is lost money to any other business in the world."

And for college football programs, those losses are staggering.

Last year, the nation's bowls paid schools roughly $270 million. Just for playing middlemen and providing 70-degree temperatures, bowl execs grabbed a larger cut, north of $300 million.

Even bowl apologists admit that by implementing a playoff system — like every other NCAA sport does — schools could generate three to four times what they're bringing home now. That's because TV networks will pay far more for a playoff game than they will for straight-to-DVD thrillers like the Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl.

Under a playoff system, the schools' collective take might even approach $1 billion annually. It's the kind of money that could fill budget gaps in nearly every Division I athletic department.

Yet there's one small barrier that stands in the way: A playoff system would ensure that schools would be taking home the money, not the insiders who make these decisions. So college football is left with lopsided accords like Minnesota's. When the Gophers were requiring a Big 10 bailout for those large red numbers in Tempe, Insight CEO John Junker was paying himself nearly $600,000 a year, with added perks like country club memberships as far away as Oregon and Oklahoma.

Coaches and athletic directors make a similar killing. Three years ago, the University of Florida beat Oklahoma for the national title. The Gators may have generated untold riches, but the school itself managed just a $50,000 profit — enough to pay for a team banquet and perhaps another part-timer for the groundskeeping crew.

Florida's coaches and athletic officials were bound by no similar restraints. They took home $960,000 in bonuses.

That's the beauty of the system: No matter how money is torched, the insiders always get paid.


"The money is not the reason we have the system we have," says Bill Hancock, executive director of the BCS. "It rewards the athletes at the end of the year with a celebration."

It's a common refrain among the sport's elder statesmen, and the gentlemanly Hancock speaks with the earnestness of a true believer. There's little doubt players have earned a respite after the ceaseless beat-down that is a football season. Especially since they receive but a fraction of the towering wealth they generate.

Minnesota's Seeley even describes bowls as an educational experience, a chance for young men to spend a week learning about another part of the country.

But considering that schools are giving away more than $300 million a year to bowls, it may be the most expensive week of touring amusement parks and children's hospitals ever conceived. And it presumes the schools couldn't do it better without making someone else rich.

Take Junker, the system's most egregious sponge. He was the CEO of the Insight and Fiesta bowls until he was fired last spring. His games may have technically been charities, but he seemed to consider himself the neediest recipient of all.

According to lawyers hired by the bowls' board to investigate malfeasance, he blew $33,000 on his own birthday party in Pebble Beach. He spent $19,000 on country club memberships in three different states. When he wasn't running up $1,200 bills at strip joints, he was bidding $90,000 in a charity auction to play golf with Jack Nicklaus.

It all came from money that could have gone to America's colleges. More alarming, Junker's spree only ended after he was outed by the Arizona Republic for illegally reimbursing employees for donations to his political allies.

Most bowl executives have equally inflated views of their own value. Orange Bowl CEO Eric Poms pays himself $506,000 a year, and kicks nearly $1 million more in salaries to four lesser execs. Outback Bowl President Jim McVay takes in $808,000 annually. Rick Baker, who runs the Cotton Bowl Classic at Cowboys Stadium, made $470,000 in 2009, according to the organization's tax returns.

Meanwhile, the nation's colleges put on 10 times the number of events back home at just a fraction of the cost.

Bowl executives defend themselves by claiming to run charities. That may be true in terms of their IRS status — the money they send back to universities is classified as a gift to higher education — but charity implies giving to someone other than yourself. In the world of college bowl games, that hasn't happened for more than 60 years.

Studies show that as far back as 1947, bowls were giving less than 1 percent of their receipts to the needy. Today, their benevolence ranges from just 1 to 3 percent.

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30 comments
Whitman1
Whitman1

72 teams went to bowl games this year. There are only 120 teams in Division I or FCS, whatever they are calling it this year. That is basically the beginning of a playoff system. The NCAA basketball tournament begins with 64. However, since the colleges are opposed to a playoff system let's return some sanity to the system. It got so bad they had to pass the six-win rule so teams with losing records couldn't get invitations; if Notre Dame were 3-8 they would still go to a bowl. Many of the teams this year weren't even coached by their head coaches, the coaches either having left for another team or got fired for a bad record (but then they got rewarded with a bowl game). Many teams were putting out minimal effort, refusing to play for assistant coaches and not even having enough pride to play for themselves. Enough.

asu87
asu87

it's just like everything else---follow the money and you find out why something exists. Very interesting article.

If a trend shouldn't continue, it won't. I believe that the bowls (as we know them now) won't exist in 10 years...too bad it's going to take that long for people to come to their senses.

There is a better way to do this....and this better way will be more interesting, provide more occupied seats in stadiums, provide more hotel rooms and restaurant dollars generated, as well as higher television ratings---all of those things drive the dollars that go toward the universities.....

Let's get real and come up with a real plan.

Victor Long
Victor Long

That may well be the coolest thign I have ever seen dude.www.Total-Privacy dot US

Mike
Mike

Almost all the schools in bowls have athletic kingdoms that are self supporting. While maybe you could make a case that more money ought to be coming back from the AD instead of spending every dime, the idea that schools are hurting education by going to bowls is unfounded.

Mike
Mike

The author keeps harping on the ticket sales, but that depends on your alumni. Our school simply tells the alumni to buy the tickets and then we donate them to students or military people at nearby bases to the game looking for a nice way to enjoy the holidays. We found you turn potentially empty seats into screaming cheer sections. In fact, we often oversubscribed. The school gets a big check and we have developed a reputation as a second tier Notre Dame, the unbeatable champion in fan support. That Minnesota could only sell 901 tickets says a lot about pathetic alumni.

Our school would never make the playoffs. Do we just tell the other 50 plus schools in bowls only the top 8 or 4 get to play. We enjoy going to places like San Diego, Orlando, Birmingham, Charlotte, Memphis to get together with other alumni or supporters and have a day long party. Playoffs kill that experience.

Playoffs are for people that do not have a school or cannot get their big, lazy, and getting wider by the day,rear ends off the sofa and support a school.

Guest
Guest

So the alumni are responsible for subsidizing the college going to the bowl game. What a joke! People don't buy the tickets from the school because they can get them cheaper from other places. It's called free enterprise.

Pathetic alumni? Auburn, the national champion, couldn't sell all their tickets. Are their alumni just as pathetic?

Playoffs are for people who want to see a true national champion crowned. Not a champion that is based on computers and voters. The other college football divisions seems to hold a playoff, why can't the FBS.

And based on your logic, the college basketball tournament should be cancelled. It's nothing more than a month-long playoff.

Mike
Mike

If a school cannot get its alumni behind a national championship bid, then I would say that defines pathetic alumni. Of course the alumni support this endeavor as it would other activities. Unless you went to Devry, I hope your participation with your alma mater is more than using it to pick up dates. We all cannot be Boone Pickens, but we can support minor things like spending $50 for a ticket.

How do you get a tournament field without using computers and voters? Isn't that what basketball does? Is the championship awarded based on the final game? Isn't that what basketball does?

Apm74
Apm74

Pathetic alumni are those who choose to spend $250 on a sporting event ticket and then do nothing to support the academic mission of their school. I guess according to your logic, Harvard alumni are pretty pathetic since they'd rather increase their university's endowment than pay for an FBS football program.

Gary
Gary

Good article. SI covered some of this last year also. Hancock embarrasses himself with his paid BCS shilll job. Dan Beebee was the previous BCS whore, and for this alone I'm happy he was booted out of the Big 12.

Jedis54
Jedis54

These bowls are glorified marketing tools for cities. That is all. They have no meaning ever since the creation of the BCS and the BCS Championship game. I figured this out a long time ago when Boise, ID created a bowl game. Who in the hell wants to go to Boise in December? Its all about tourism and teams that "travel" well.

Paul
Paul

Evasion, misdirection and obfuscation ... all necessary for a successful con ...

GusMitchem
GusMitchem

The gen pop wants to tune in right at the end and have teams organized in a pretty clean bracket and crown a champion, it requires less dedication as a fan and makes that water cooler talk accessible for even the biggest idiots. See: Superbowl & March Madness

GusMitchem
GusMitchem

Great, another pro-playoff article to be swallowed up by the masses. The basis "lost" money is crap, thats why there are conferences.The big dogs help the small dogs, a subsidy for filling out the schedule every year with common geographical opponents in the spirit of competition.

$17 or $34M million for two BCS bowls will support lots of trips for Minnesota.

College football is a season long championship not a lets play just good enough to make the playoffs and then see what happens. Besides that if you have a playoff of say 16 teams I can tell you right now the 10-12 teams that will be in it every year on name brand alone, because thats fair too right !

Solesrfr
Solesrfr

Season long championship my foot. If that was the case Alabama would not be in the "championship game". That fact alone proves that not every game counts like the BCS apologists like to shout so loudly.

GusMitchem
GusMitchem

Really, then who should be #2.

Ames Iowa counts too...

Hender328
Hender328

I think another reason that the bowl system is popular is because this allows 35 teams to end the season on a win. It also allows another 10-12 teams that went to bowl and lost to feel goood about the direction in which their program is going .

Hender328
Hender328

I think another reason that the bowl system is popular is because this allows 35 teams to end the season on a win. It also allows another 10-12 teams that went to bowl and lost to feel go about the direction in which their program is going .

Fritz
Fritz

Gee...slaves on a plantation...did you make that up yourself? They choose where they want to go. School is paid for, all the food they can eat at the training table, roof over their head, free clothes, travel etc, and who knows what they get behind the scenes. Yep-sure sounds like slavery.

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Kergo 1 Spaceship

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