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 Ten," says Minnesota football spokesman Andy Seeley.

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

Details

Tim Elfrink contributed to this report.

"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 these 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 Ten 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 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; he just considered 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. The bosses for the Cotton and Alamo bowls make $419,000. Just for staging one game per year.

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, 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 percent to 3 percent.

By comparison, "Most highly efficient charities will spend 75 percent or more," says Megan Davison of Charity Watch, a Chicago group that helps donors find the most effective charities. "A program that spends 60 percent will get a C grade from us."

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10 comments
dsgasgahasdh
dsgasgahasdh

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Josh
Josh

Unironically agreed

Gwmwllc
Gwmwllc

These monies should be helping poor undocumented Mexican migrants get a free university education.

Mbmun2002
Mbmun2002

These monies should be helping rising school tuitions.

Steven
Steven

Mr. Kotz, the writer of this article, calls this type of robbery to Universities "Capitalism" he is wrong. This is Socialism at it's finest. You take the college football teams and offer them a bone like a bowl game and force them to adhere or be left out. Administrators make the decisions as to where the money is spent. Or better known as the governing body of the school. It's not coming out of their pocket so what the heck. They get a free trip for a week on the school's dime. Sounds very much like our current Presidential Administration, can we spell "too many vacations" President Obama? Pure Capitalism would be a "Free Enterprise System" We don't like what you are doing so we are going to hold our own bowl game in a neutral site closer to our two schools. Wrong, NCAA says you can't do that, because they are socialist leaders and they have their own selfish agenda to acomplish and if they let these schools go rogue, so to speak then the paper tiger of the NCCA will come crashing doww on themselves and the fans and schools will see them for what they are. The Schools athletic parallel to the Federal Reserve.

Justice4all
Justice4all

oh this was no surprise to me ...from the day this bowl plan came out ..me and 5 buds were drinking at watering hole on 20st and camelback saying the monies this would bring to the right few people ( to bad none of them was us) Since the bowl decides everything from how much they give back to the school and how much they keep

BingoFuel
BingoFuel

This article does a good job of explaining the excesses of the bowls but a lot of its conclusions are really stupid.

It misses the point that part of the idea of the bowls is having alumni (many of whom donate money) get to see their university's team play in some fun or different part of the country. Why the heck would anyone want to watch Minnesota and Iowa State play in freezing Minnesota in December or January? Holding a game there between two 6-6 teams wouldn't even happen. So it is absurd to present that possibility as a money saving option.

Also, anyone who thinks that playoffs will eliminate the bowls is smoking a bowl full of something. Playoffs might eliminate the BCS but it wouldn't eliminate the bowls. In all likelihood, the playoffs would just end up taking place at the existing bowl sites. And even if the playoffs took place somewhere other than the bowls, the bowls would still invite teams that didn't make it into the playoffs. Teams like a 6-6 Minnesota wouldn't even make it into the playoffs unless you had an absurd number of rounds (which won't happen). So why would they turn down going to a bowl if they weren't in the playoffs?

NotSusan
NotSusan

Thanks for the great reporting! 2014 BCS deal expiration can't come soon enough!

Matt Schley
Matt Schley

What? You didn't read anything you wrote, did you? How can you call this "socialism"? Socialism implies that the poor get benefits from the rich. In this system, however, the rich are getting even more money from everyone (taxpayers, students, athletic departments).

It's "capitalist" (not really, but much closer than "socialist") because the rich (people who run the bowls) are taking taking advantage of the people (schools) being forced to use their services because there is no alternative postseason (i.e. a monopoly).

(this is no longer aimed toward the previous poster)

I realize this is a type of government, not a market, but I would compare it more to an oligarchy. The powerful few (bowl execs, conference commissioners, and NCAA) take money from everyone, and those people are essentially forced to pay for these bowls. Of course, school administrators could decide not to pay to go to these games. If that happened, though, boosters would get upset. Then the proverbial crap hits the fan. Either the boosters quit giving money, the administrators get fired because of pressure from the boosters, or both.

The school administrators are forced into wasting a load of taxpayer money because the NCAA, the bowl system execs, and boosters are all idiots. The fact that this system has not been scrapped yet shows that NCAA football is all about making money (for the people in charge). They don't care about the majority, and they don't care about the integrity of the game. There is a reason why every successful professional sports league that I've ever heard of had some type of playoff. It's the best way we know of to find a "true" champion.

 
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