By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) I’m confused.
Last I checked, everyone from fans, to media, to players, to coaches, to the freakin’ President of the United States wanted a playoff in college football.
Yet Tuesday, while the college football world waited in suspense to see if the Pac-12 was going to accept Texas and Oklahoma into its supposed “superconference”, everyone ignored the much bigger story.
Tuesday night, HBO’s Real Sports exposed the Sugar Bowl for making improper campaign donations to former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco in 2004 and 2006. Furthermore, the AP found records indicating there were further donations made by the bowl to Blanco in 2005, 2005 and 2006. The Sugar Bowl acknowledged the Real Sports allegations and said it was a mistake, but denied the AP’s report.
This is now the second BCS bowl to get caught making improper campaign donations and once again, the same people that want a playoff in college football are ignoring it for some reason.
Earlier this year, the Fiesta Bowl fired its president after it was found to have laundered money to political campaigns in Arizona.
This, my playoff loving football fans, is the key to ending the bowl system. So why is everyone running the other way?
Real Sports exposed the bowl system for basically running a ponzi scheme — my words, not theirs — which “Death To The BCS” did in a similar fashion a year ago.
Each bowl is considered a nonprofit charitable organization that receives state subsidies. That means, depending on where you live, your tax dollars might be ending up in the hands of a college football bowl. They get their tax-exempt status because they claim their profits go back into the universities and their local communities.
As Real Sports detailed Tuesday night, that’s hardly the case.
The bowls claim about 75 percent of their revenues go back to their participating schools. Real Sports found that number is more like 55 percent. The bowls also claim they give tens of millions of dollars to local charities. Real Sports found they are hardly giving any money back to local charities.
So where’s that money going? Into the hands of the presidents of these bowls who are giving themselves unreasonable salaries. For instance, Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan made just under $600,000 in 2009.
This might not be considered an actual ponzi scheme because we are talking about tax dollars and not investment dollars, but it’s essentially the same thing. Your money is going to an organization that is supposed to be using that money elsewhere, but is instead putting it their own pockets.
So how is this continually getting ignored?
Well, for one, the bowls are apparently paying the government officials who can actually do something about this. Two BCS bowls have already been caught. I find it hard to believe these are isolated instances.
The other problem, however, is that media, specifically one four-letter network, doesn’t seem to care. There have been significant efforts made — including this latest report by Real Sports — but for some reason, the momentum shortly dies out.
For instance, an organization called Playoff PAC filed its third complaint to the IRS this week, but so far, it is 0-for-2.
As mentioned before, Yahoo! Sports’ Dan Wetzel and Jeff Passan helped write “Death To The BCS”, which is the most damning piece of literature ever written on the clearly corrupt bowl system. But, most of the people I know haven’t even heard of it.
So what’s the missing piece here?
You guessed it, ESPN. You know, the network that has more control over college football than the NCAA.
Remember when ESPN used to champion a college football playoff? Haven’t heard much about that since they got the rights to all five BCS games, have you?
That’s right, another organization that could do something about the corrupt bowl system is now reaping the benefits from it.
What’s that your hear? That’s silence coming from Bristol.
Want proof? ESPN.com didn’t even have a story about the Sugar Bowl’s improper campaign donations on its main college football page when I checked numerous times Tuesday and again Wednesday morning.
No, instead, ESPN is spending more effort covering conference expansion than the actual college football season, let alone the corrupt bowl system that is the sport’s postseason.
And why would they? ESPN would probably profit from a playoff system, but now that they get the BCS revenue instead of FOX, it doesn’t really matter.
The problem is, ESPN is the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader” and it’s true. So when it chooses what and what not to report based on its own benefits, the public isn’t getting all the facts.
And stories like bowl games breaking the law — it’s against federal tax law for tax-exempt charities to participate in politics — can go unnoticed.
Do you really think it was a coincidence the Pac-12 announced it wasn’t expanding its conference right as HBO’s Real Sports was concluding Tuesday night?
Sure enough, Twitter was abuzz with the stunning decision not to admit Texas and Oklahoma to the Pac-12 instead of the much more significant story of the Sugar Bowl breaking the law. Hell, it wasn’t just ESPN. Even Dan Wetzel was ignoring the Sugar Bowl story.
These improper campaign donations might just be the key to bringing down the current bowl system. More importantly, it might be the key to stopping the bowl executives from putting tax payer dollars in their own pockets.
Unfortunately, between the politicians getting paid off by the bowls and ESPN profiting from the BCS, it doesn’t appear anything is going to change.
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.