Small Bowl Games Rob Peter To Pay Peter

↵Every year around this time, there's a flurry of articles complaining↵about the number of bowl games. Usually these pieces start off with↵something along the lines of "Who cares about [7-5 CUSA team]↵versus [7-5 MAC team] in [place no one would ever go]?" ↵

↵

↵The answer, obviously, is no one. Last week, Mike Tunison linked to a↵piece that highlighted schools that had incurred some huge losses after bowl games, what with↵transportation and conference splits eating up supposedly↵huge bowl payouts. A lot of smaller bowls are basically money sinks at↵this point. ↵

↵

↵How is that possible when the NCAA mandates a minimum payout of↵$750,000? The bowls are robbing Peter to pay Peter in the form of ticket guarantees: ↵

↵
↵⇥To make the bowl berth official, all [Western Michigan] had to do was↵⇥buy 11,000 tickets to the game against Rice. The Broncos did so, paying↵⇥$450,000 to the bowl for the tickets.↵
↵

↵Go ahead and guess how many tickets Western Michigan sold to last↵year's Texas Bowl. Too high, too high, too high: 548. Western ended up↵eating over 400k in ticket expenses and the Texas Bowl got away with a↵functional payout of less than half of the NCAA's minimum. ↵

↵

↵Sure, some of the pain suffered by bigger programs is self-inflicted.↵When West Virginia ends up a million dollars in the red but drags 400 band↵members to the Fiesta Bowl at a cost of 700k, that's largely on West↵Virginia. When Florida makes a trip to the national championship game↵and pays for over 500 band members, cheerleaders and↵"VIPs" to go and takes a -- surpise! -- loss, that is 100% on↵Florida. Any time you see a big name school go to a big bowl and come↵home with a big red number, the reason is that the university is using↵the trip as a junket for a cast of thousands. The bowls shouldn't have↵any shame about that.↵

↵

↵Tiny bowls that cater to the Western Michigans of the world, on the↵other hand, appear to be skirting the NCAA's regulations with these↵ticket guarantees. Hell, some bowls have the audacity to charge the↵schools considerably more than the market will bear:↵

↵
↵⇥Last year, Virginia↵⇥Tech earned a berth in the Orange Bowl and was required to buy↵⇥17,500 tickets at $125 each. It only sold 3,342 of them, leading to a↵⇥loss of $1.77 million for the university and the Atlantic↵⇥Coast Conference, records show.↵⇥
↵⇥
↵⇥A Hokies athletics official speculated the reason for the weak sales↵⇥was the weak economy, the expensive trip to Miami and cheaper↵⇥tickets available to fans on the Internet. "Many Hokie fans bought that↵⇥way rather than through our ticket office," Assistant Athletic Director↵⇥Lisa Rudd said. ↵
↵

↵The Orange Bowl still has a major television deal and put more into↵the ACC's kitty than it took out; the Texas Bowl almost certainly can't↵say the same. ↵

↵

↵So if you're a small school with a tenuous budget and you get to 7-5,↵you've got a nasty choice. You can spend hundreds of thousands of↵dollars to send your team to a bowl that will be on ESPN on December 23rd,↵or you can kill your program. Imagine trying to recruit against other↵members of your conference if you said thanks-but-no-thanks to a bowl.↵You'd get killed.↵

↵

↵Since a sizable cut of their guarantee is being fed right back to the↵bowl in the form of ticket guarantees that aren't coming close to being met↵even for BCS games, the result is a net loss for everyone except the bowl↵operators. (One reason you'll never see this story on ESPN: the network↵now operates a half-dozen bowl games of little repute.) The MAC received↵a $2.1 million kickback from the BCS last year; bowl games the↵conference actually played in lost more money than they brought in. This↵is a familiar story: programs unable to actually pay players spend money↵in a thousand other ways, competing against each other on the margins↵and introducing a cottage industry of middlemen taking a cut. ↵

↵

↵I'm not making an argument that they should actually pay the kids↵here, but the NCAA might want to step in and make these guarantees a↵thing of the past. A half-dozen bowls would wither and die, but that would↵be a relief to the athletic directors that had to prop them up.↵

↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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