So what does one receive for donating just 3 percent? "We would give them an F grade and call them pathetic and urge the general public not to support them," says Daniel Borochoff, president of Charity Watch.

But while bowls violate every principle of philanthropy, state and city politicians are happy to look away. The games' nonprofit status may allow them to skirt taxes, but they do deliver built-in tourist traffic.

To ensure no one asks too many questions, the bowls fete these same politicians with receptions, comped tickets, and sideline passes. The Fiesta Bowl even paid for luxury legislator junkets to cities like Chicago and Boston.


Tim Elfrink contributed to this report.

The bowls do their best to cloak this strange approach to philanthropy. Both the Orange and Sugar bowls claim they do wonders for their cities' charities; for reasons unexplained, they just don't include those donations on their books. Meanwhile, bowls like the Cotton simply ignore a reporter's requests for comment.

Even the small number of bowls set up as for-profit enterprises claim to be charitable in spirit.

At the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston, one of seven games owned by ESPN, spokesman Zac Emmons is happy to note that $400,000 has been donated to the DePelchin Children's Center over the past five years. He just isn't authorized to reveal what percentage of the game's revenue went to charity — or how much executive director Heather Houston is paid.

And ESPN network publicist Rachel Margolis won't talk numbers either: "We usually don't disclose any information related to revenue or wages for any of our bowls," she says.

Equally trapped in an altruistic mirage is the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco, sponsored by the food giant Kraft. The bowl insinuates that it's part of Kraft's marketing campaign to give away 25 million meals a year.

Spokesman Doug Kelly claims the bowl "donated the equivalent of 120,000 meals" in 2010. That's likely an overstatement. The game's own website says it gives away just one meal per ticket sold, and the Kraft is known for hosting pastures of empty seats.

So it's not surprising that Kelly gets defensive when asked what percentage of the revenue goes to the hungry. "That's proprietary," he responds.

He's politely informed that, as a charity, the bowl is obligated to make such figures public. After all, Sports Business Journal reports that the game's CEO, Gary Cavalli, makes $377,475 a year, likely making him the hungriest of all.

But Kelly is in no mood to provide details of the game's supposed largesse. He suddenly claims that he's been speaking off the record and that he can't be quoted.

The wiser Hancock downplays the beneficence angle, well aware that it's riddled with blather. Instead, he emphasizes the tourism advantages to host cities.

He's right, of course. By forcing schools to write mammoth ticket checks — and contractually coercing teams to stay longer than they need to — bowls do wonders for warm-weather economies.

"There's no question bowl games benefit charities in their community," Hancock says. "From my perspective, the economic development to the community is significant. It's a blend. I think the people who talk about the bowls as nonprofits exclude the economic development end."

Left unmentioned is why University of Missouri students would have wanted to subsidize Tempe when the Tigers played the Insight last year. Or why Washington state residents would have been thrilled to see their tax money burned in San Diego when the Huskies appeared in the Holiday Bowl. That's the problem with the insiders: The system rewards them so lavishly, they simply can't fathom that others might resent paying the freight.

College presidents easily could put a stop to the shell game. If they had the will. Which they don't.

They tend to be a lot like coaches, a job-jumping species forever on the hunt for more prestigious posts. This march to greater altitudes requires staying within the graces of trustees and big donors, who enjoy free bowl vacations as much as everyone else. Besides, many presidents wield less institutional power than their own coaches, as Penn State's pedophilia scandal revealed.

So they behave like congressmen, allowing their schools to be pillaged to preserve their political capital. Better to kick these decisions to athletic directors and conference commissioners.

And that's where the pitfalls begin.

"The bowl directors are a lot smarter than the athletic directors, because anyone who would agree to this deal is getting whomped," says Yahoo columnist Wetzel.

It's not that A.D.s are necessarily stupid. Let's just say they're incurious and not especially self-aware.

Most have spent years, if not decades, being chummy with bowl execs. When they're invited to events like the Fiesta Frolic, a weekend of splendor and golf in Phoenix — price tag: $387,421 — they don't believe their allegiance is being purchased. It's just a swell time among old friends.

The same goes for the Orange Bowl's Summer Splash events. Last year's featured an "all-inclusive, three-night, four-day complimentary getaway" for 40 insiders and their guests, according to the invitation. They sailed the Caribbean, docked at a private island, and spent their days parasailing and "sipping delicious Coco Locos on a hammock." Don't forget the free pedicures.

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Unironically agreed


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


These monies should be helping rising school tuitions.


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.


oh this was no surprise to me ...from the day this bowl plan came out 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


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?


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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