Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

17 May 2011

The Bowls: Silly Extravagance or Worthwhile Tradition?

College football blogger The Wiz of Odds has analyzed expense reports from 56 of the 70 teams that played in bowl games last year, to try to figure out if the bowl games really are the moneymakers that many college football officials claim them to be. The biggest issue here seems to be "ticket guarantees." Schools agree to purchase a percentage of tickets in order to play in a bowl game, which means if those tickets don't sell to the public, the school is on the hook. And the University of Connecticut got MASSIVELY screwed playing in last year's Fiesta Bowl.

"The 30 non-BCS bowl games are, at best, a break-even venture. Without the ticket guarantee, it is likely that half the bowls would not exist."

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 17 May 2011

28 comments, Last at 22 May 2011, 9:22pm by zlionsfan


by Theo :: Tue, 05/17/2011 - 12:43pm

"The 30 non-BCS bowl games are, at best, a break-even venture. Without the ticket guarantee, it is likely that half the bowls would not exist."
...but that's not the case.
And without bowl games, would college football be what it is today?
I have some for you:
"Football games are nice, but when the QB doesn't show up, it's hardly fun to watch at all."
"My uncle is my uncle, but if he wasn't a man, he'd be my aunt."

by DavidL :: Tue, 05/17/2011 - 2:24pm

Yeah, but any money the bowls get through the ticket guarantee isn't revenue being generated for the NCAA schools. If I'm running a store and talk about how much money I make in sales, it hurts my case if most of that money comes from me buying my own product.

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 05/18/2011 - 7:10am

Anyone buying a Mediterranean resort from a Russian mobster would be sorely disappointed to discover that its 100% "occupancy" record had been generated almost entirely by the former owner's money laundering practices . . .

by SammyGlick :: Wed, 05/18/2011 - 9:59am

I have one for you too.
"If you didn't write comments like that, you wouldn't be a huge asshole."

by Stats are for losers (not verified) :: Tue, 05/17/2011 - 1:05pm

$5.14 million in absorbed tickets is still only 4,283 trips to the strip club.

by drobviousso :: Tue, 05/17/2011 - 1:23pm

Good link. You can always tell the crooks and looters. They are the ones holding up moral conscripts on other people.

by big_jgke :: Tue, 05/17/2011 - 4:50pm

No kidding. College sports are such a farce.

by willpie (not verified) :: Tue, 05/17/2011 - 1:25pm

Is this remotely controversial to anyone who isn't actually making money from the bowl games?

by Hank Hardy Unruh (not verified) :: Tue, 05/17/2011 - 2:36pm

The bigger issue isn't even whether schools are currently making money or not. The NCAA is missing out on an unimaginable pile of money by outsourcing its postseason to third parties. Think of how much the NCAA pulls in from the basketball tournament - and nobody even really cares about college basketball. College football is by far the most popular amateur sport. Even a small NCAA-run playoff could make a killing, and ALL that money would go to the schools.

by Aaron Brooks' Good Twin (not verified) :: Tue, 05/17/2011 - 3:04pm

The NCAA is missing out on an unimaginable pile of money by outsourcing its postseason to third parties

This would be the technically not-for-profit NCAA?

by RickD :: Tue, 05/17/2011 - 3:50pm

It should be, esp. to the residents of Connecticut.

by Kal :: Tue, 05/17/2011 - 2:37pm

When it was a way of having two teams from conferences with long traditions playing each other in a 'special' game, I think it mattered. When it was a bonus thing but the critical part of the season was winning your conference's championship, I think it was good but not great.

But now? Now the schools get hosed, the league mostly gets hosed, and the only ones that make money on it are the bowls themselves. And even they aren't particularly profitable.

I'm a big Pac-10 fan and I'd love nothing more than to see Oregon win a Rose Bowl against a Big-10 team, but at this point it just seems stupid.

by sundown (not verified) :: Tue, 05/17/2011 - 3:16pm

I used to love watching all the bowls but I'm now completely in your camp. They're recruiting tools and little else. You get a chance to be on TV and have the commentators talk about how great your school is, how your coach is simply awesome, and how virtually all your players are a "lock" to play in the NFL...even though it'd take a league with 200 teams to make that a reality because they say the same thing about every single bowl team.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Tue, 05/17/2011 - 3:31pm

But without all the minor bowls, an 0-3 start would kill the season and thus attendance, right?

by RickD :: Tue, 05/17/2011 - 3:51pm

There are fans who would only got to a football game played by an 0-3 team if they thought it might go to some second-rate bowl game?

Really?? Can't be many.

by zlionsfan :: Sun, 05/22/2011 - 9:22pm

Many of the teams that end up in the minor bowls don't draw that well in the first place (which is one of the reasons they get screwed by those bowls - they can't sell enough tickets to break even).

Also, keep in mind that most schools play the majority of their non-conference games at the beginning of the season. An 0-3 start is likely to knock many schools out of contention for any bowl ... it's more likely that an 0-3 finish would end up putting a school like that in one of the smaller bowls.

by Tom Gower :: Tue, 05/17/2011 - 3:46pm

Amazing, simply amazing how not-for-profit entities like educational institutions decide to maximize things other than the organization's financial bottom line.

by RickD :: Tue, 05/17/2011 - 4:01pm

There's a world of room between "not maximizing an organization's bottom line" and bleeding away millions of dollars.

by SammyGlick :: Wed, 05/18/2011 - 9:31am

The implication of your statement is that schools choose to go to bowl games to maximize educational opportunities for their students. The reality is that schools choose to go to bowl games because the people who decide whether or not the school goes to bowl games benefit financially from the school going to bowl games.

by Tom Gower :: Wed, 05/18/2011 - 12:14pm

I thought the implication of my statement was just that educational institutions' athletic decisions were driven by factors other than money, but without specifying what those factors were.

Decisions to attend bowls, even if money loses, are because the people who may be involved in making the decision to attend, like coaches, athletic department administrators, university trustees, big donors, often reap great personal benefits, whether financial or prestige-related, and can point to amorphous (and honestly uncalculatable) benefits in terms of prestige and honor of the school and the team, while other parties bear the cost.

by SammyGlick :: Wed, 05/18/2011 - 8:54pm

Tom, implication means "the conclusion that can be drawn from something, although it is not explicitly stated." I think when someone says an educational institution cares about something other than money, the conclusion that can be drawn is that the institution cares about education, not that the employees are greedy. Thanks for clarifying.

by Trust Doesn't Rust (not verified) :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 9:42pm

Don't forget the bowl "representatives" who are able to swing full-time jobs (or at least jobs with full-time pay) out of what really amounts to putting on one game.

by Solomon :: Tue, 05/17/2011 - 9:27pm

The NCAA could require 8 wins for bowl eligibility, which would effectively eliminate numerous minor bowl games.

I do not see much prestige for major conference teams that go 2-6 in conference, beat 4 non-conference cupcakes, and qualify for a bowl (hello, Kentucky).

Since the regular season is now 12 games instead of 11, I suggest a compromise of 7 1-A wins for bowl eligibility. Any wins against 1-AA (yes, I am using the old names) teams should not count towards bowl eligibility.

The universities, especially the public ones, should re-think their positions regarding ticket guarantees.

by Dennis :: Fri, 05/20/2011 - 1:05pm

Just make it 6 wins against 1-AA teams and you'd eliminate a few of the bowls.

by speedegg :: Wed, 05/18/2011 - 1:24am

Wow, public colleges raise tuition to cover the cost of participating in a bowl game? I'd be mad if I had to pay for that. Wait a minute....

And where's that Bowl Game Anomaly guy? What's he have to say about this?

by AB (not verified) :: Wed, 05/18/2011 - 11:53am

Surely Solomon is right here. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Bowls are good when they involve genuinely successful teams (8-3 or better, possibly 9-2 in the smaller conferences). Generally they will draw decent TV audiences and crowds, and even if they don't, there is a justification for subsidising them.

Ditch the bowls for 5th and 6th place teams that no-one wants to see.

by CuseFanInSoCal :: Wed, 05/18/2011 - 1:34pm

The thing is that without the bowls that lose money for the teams involved (which is the vast majority of them), enough schools and conferences would support an FBS playoff to actually get the NCAA to run one. Which in the long run would at best (if you like bowls) relegate the current top-tier bowls to destinations for the best teams that miss the playoffs (and ability to draw fans and TV viewers is part of 'best' in bowl-speak). I'd shed no tears for the bowls if they died.

by TV_Pete (not verified) :: Wed, 05/18/2011 - 4:13pm

My suggestion for the current system (and it could still fit within existing contracts, so could be realistic) is simple:

Determine the championship teams AFTER the bowl games.

January 4th or whatever the #'s are combined to determine which teams play. That would mean that every bowl has a little more significance. It is a tiny step to satisfy those who want a playoff, but it still maintains the integrity of the regular season and bowl games.