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Hoge: The Worst Sport We Just Can’t Stop Watching

The BCS National Championship trophy. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The BCS National Championship trophy. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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By Adam Hoge

When this college football season is over I will have attended 11 games in person, traveled over 5,300 miles and watched portions of hundreds of other games on television.

I do it partly because it is work, but mostly because I love college football.

But lost in all the pageantry, points and packed monstrosities from Ann Arbor to Tuscaloosa to Pasadena, are the problems with college football everyone notices but chooses to ignore. We’re talking about illegal recruiting by coaches, “pay to play” dealings and the large elephant at NCAA Headquarters in Indianapolis: the scam that is the BCS.

Every year we visit the same topic over and over again. Why doesn’t FBS college football have a playoff? And every year the NCAA makes the best P.R. move it could possibly make by ignoring all the criticism until college basketball kicks into high gear and everyone forgets how mad they were that a four-loss Big East team played in the Fiesta Bowl and an undefeated Boise State team did not.

Oh yeah, in case you aren’t up to date on your latest unfair bowl projections, Pittsburgh, which lost to UConn Thursday and is 5-4 overall, is still on pace to be the Big East Champion and represent the conference in the Fiesta Bowl. Meanwhile, Boise State, which returned 20 of 22 starters from a team that beat both Oregon and TCU last season, could be watching a National Championship Game involving both the Ducks and Horned Frogs on television. So how will the BCS and NCAA justify this one?

Silence.

And it will work. ESPN will still have their way-to-early 2011 preseason predictions out by January 15 and before you know it, we’ll be talking Bracketology. Meanwhile, the bowl executives will continue to get fat, the coaches will be back out on the recruiting trail promising the world to high school kids and the dirtiest sport that exists will prepare for another season of making money.

It’s just too bad most of the schools won’t. Did you know that only 14 of the 120 schools that have an FBS program made money in 2009? Those figures came from an NCAA report released in August.

But that’s all the NCAA will tell you. Thankfully there a few experts that have dug up the dirt on where the money in college football is actually going. 

In this week’s Sports Illustrated, authors Austin Murphy and Dan Wetzel explained who exactly is getting rich off college football and why those people don’t want a playoff. There are some truly startling facts. Here are a few, directly from the story:

 

  • Bowl games enjoy tax-free, not-for-profit status despite generating money: “The Sugar Bowl finished 2007 with $37 million in assets and turned an $11.6 million profit. What’s more, the Sugar Bowl accepted $3 million from the Louisiana state government—this a year before it was announced that the state was running a $341 million shortfall in its budget.”
  • Bowl executives are handsomely compensated: “Working for bowls is a great gig, if you can get it…. The money is excellent, even for such inconsequential games as the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, whose executive director, Gary Cavalli, is unlikely to go hungry, having pocketed $377,475 in 2009. Cavalli, of course, is a bargain compared with Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan, who made $607,500 in fiscal 2007.”
  • The majority of a bowl’s revenue goes to the bowl, not the participating schools: “The 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl generated $12.3 million in revenue but paid out just $5.9 million total to the participating schools, Auburn and Clemson.”
  • Schools profit little from bowl games, even if they’re BCS bowls: “The $18.5 million [Ohio State received for making the Rose Bowl last January] went to the Big Ten, where it was added to a pool of bowl revenue that was then sliced into 12 shares—one for each team, one for the league office. That still left Ohio State with a tidy $2.2 million to spend, which the Buckeyes did. Ohio State’s team travel costs were $352,727. Unsold tickets ran the school a cool $144,710. The bill to transport, feed and lodge the band and cheerleaders came to $366,814. Throw in entertainment, gifts and sundry other expenses, and the Buckeyes lost $79,597.”
  • Bowls profit off of the teams that play in them: “Halftime entertainment at the Jan. 1, 2009, Outback Bowl was provided by the [Iowa] Hawkeye Marching Band. And how did the Tampa Bay Bowl Association, which runs the game, thank the band for that gratis performance? By charging the university $65 a head for each of the 346 band members. According to university records submitted to the NCAA, the school was forced to purchase face-value tickets totaling $22,490 for the band, even though the game wasn’t sold out.” This includes required ticket agreements: “For their appearance in the 2009 Orange Bowl, Virginia Tech and the ACC agreed to purchase 17,500 tickets at $125 per seat, but they could sell only 3,342, according to university documents. The result: a $1.77 million bath for the school, not the bowl.”
  • Bonuses for certain coaches/ADs that make bowls: “Coaches land tidy bonuses for even minor-bowl glory. ADs, too, reap a windfall for a bowl invite. The going rate: one month’s extra salary for an appearance in even the lowliest game. Oregon’s Rob Mullens receives $50,000 if the Ducks go bowling. Kentucky’s Mitch Barnhart collects $30,000.”

 

What does all this mean? It means that lost in all the hype, fandom and media coverage of college football, we all forget that at the end of the day the sport is still a business run by a handful of executives that want to make money.

The coaches and athletic directors want to win because that means more money for them, even if the entire department loses money each year. And they want you to help them win by donating thousands and thousands of dollars.

Will you do it? 

Yes. Because you want your team to win, even if the end result is the Little Ceasar’s Bowl.

Meanwhile, a team that allegedly payed its starting quarterback to come there will likely win the BCS National Championship, the quarterback will win the Heisman Trophy and five years from now, both the championship and Heisman Trophy will be ripped away. And will anyone care? No, because that was five years ago.

But despite all this, like you, I will have the pre-game shows on Saturday morning ready to go. We both know we can’t stop watching. Because even though Boise State was nearly eliminated from the BCS National Championship last week because it only beat a good Hawaii team 42-7 and out-gained the Warriors 737 yards to 196, deep down, we love the controversy. We might hate the BCS, but we sure love talking about the BCS.

So, enjoy the games Saturday. They say this is the best regular season in sports. And how can we disagree? That Northwestern-Iowa game this weekend? If the Wildcats win they might get to go to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville where they can’t even sell out their NFL games instead of the Insight Bowl in Arizona where they might get to play the other team from Iowa (Iowa State) and lose a bunch of money in front of a few thousand fans 2,000 miles away. Who doesn’t want that?

And Iowa? If they win, they could still share a piece of the Big Ten title. It would set up an amazing game next weekend in Iowa City against Ohio State in a battle between two teams that have zero chance to win the National Championship. Hooray!

It all starts 11 a.m. Saturday. See you there.