PHILADELPHIA -- You know college football's bowl system is hopelessly broken as a financial model -- not just as a method of determining a national champion -- when a school loses far more money going to the Fiesta Bowl, which paid out $18 million per team, than it did the year before playing in the PapaJohns.com Bowl, which paid out $300,000.
That's how it played out for Connecticut last season. The Huskies will probably make out even better this year not going to a bowl at all.
So understand: Bowl payout figures are worthless. The larger the bowl game and its payout, the more likely a school will lose money. The bowl payouts don't mention that a bowl may require schools to buy thousands of tickets at top-dollar prices. Factor in that bowl payouts are split up among conference teams and you see how Connecticut could have lost over $1.7 million on last season's Fiesta Bowl.
Really, the best that most any school can hope for is a break-even deal or something close to it once travel expenses are factored in. Bloomberg News reported that for the 2010-11 postseason, "the average team loss in a BCS bowl was $346,959, reflecting an average expense allowance of about $2.38 million and an average expense of $2.73 million. The average loss in a non-BCS bowl that postseason was $139,604."
It seems Temple is lucky to be affiliated with the Mid-American Conference for bowl purposes. In financial terms, the MAC's bowl arrangement sounds better than most in terms of taking care of its schools. MAC deputy commissioner Bob Gennarelli said Monday that Temple will receive a $300,000 stipend out of the $750,000 the league receives from the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, and Temple will get 5,000 tickets at no cost and will keep the revenue from any tickets sold. That's the standard deal the MAC has with its affiliated bowls, Gennarelli said. The stipend is based on travel distance, Gennarelli said, not the size of the bowl payout.
The ticket deal is the important part. In some conferences, the schools have to buy the tickets, and if they can't sell them, they take a bath. That's what happened to UConn. Of course, Temple knows it won't be able to sell 5,000 tickets to a game in Albuquerque, N.M. You can see why Temple's administration was hoping the Owls would end up in the Military Bowl in D.C.
That's not to say Temple will make money from this deal. Transporting a football program to New Mexico isn't cheap. But the MAC deal ensures that this is closer to a standard road game. There is no expensive lodging requirement for Temple as some bowls have.
"The television exposure, the experience for the kids, the brand image of the football program -- for all of those things, there's a certain value to the university," said Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw. "I believe that you get that kind of response from most schools that participate in a bowl."
A good number of these bowls exist for ESPN programming. The New Mexico Bowl is one of a number of bowls owned outright by ESPN. The network chose the Owls for this game even though Temple's basketball team will be playing Texas at the same time that day on ESPN2.
"That might be a first -- we're kind of looking to make lemonade on that," said Bradshaw, imagining there will be plenty of two-television Owls viewing parties.
Almost everybody can agree that the bowl system is hopelessly broken. An excellent book was published last year on the subject, "Death to the BCS, by sportswriters Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter, and Jeff Passan. This season would have provided more chapters. Any system that requires guessing who should play LSU for the national title is broken. Any system that allows the Sugar Bowl, one of the five BCS bowls, to choose one team that got shellacked in its conference-title game (Virginia Tech) to play another school that didn't make its conference-title game (Michigan) is broken. Any system that drops the seventh-ranked team by its own convoluted system (Boise State) to a bowl that offers the 19th-highest payout is hopelessly broken.
The money detailed in the book is even more eye-opening. As a reward for last season's Big East championship, UConn took its bath at the Fiesta, spending $2.9 million from unsold tickets out of its 17,500-ticket allotment, $1.1 million for travel and housing, including $550,000 for the band and cheerleaders, and $164,428 in meals at a high-end resort hotel where UConn was required to stay. (Lodging alone was $211,496.) Meanwhile, the school's cut from the $18 million paid to the Big East was $2.523 million. (The school also got cuts from other Big East schools' bowl appearances.)
Maybe the only justification for the bowl system can be made by schools that have known what it's like not to be part of them for many years.
Bradshaw said the bowls go "hand and glove with having football in the first place."
It's a fact that the sport isn't a money-maker on most campuses, so any value has to be as a marketing device, a front door to the school.
"To have that success and be rewarded, it's not a financial sort of motivation," Bradshaw said of the bowls. "It's more the value of the brand, playing at that level of football, that justifies it."
But the bowl payouts themselves? All smoke and mirrors.