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Letter from AFMby: John Gallup
Editor and Publisher
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This year, the Rose Bowl celebrated its 100th anniversary, which means that, for 100 years, college football fans have been treated to the excitement and spectacle of the annual parade of bowl games. Classic matchups, historic venues and fantastic finishes are the rule when teams go “bowling”. Next season, with 38 bowls on the schedule, more teams than ever will get to experience the thrill of participating in bowl week activities and competing in a bowl game.
There’s one aspect, however, of bowl games that can be troublesome. Each year, many bowl-bound teams spend more to participate than they take in from the bowl.
This year’s prime example was University of Central Florida meeting Baylor University in the Fiesta Bowl on New Years Day. Neither team had ever been invited to one of the coveted BCS bowl games, so this was a momentous occasion for each program. The two schools had grown in recent years to be legitimate national powers and were now reaping the rewards.
But, unfortunately, UCF is expecting to take a financial bath by playing in the game and Baylor will likely only break even. How can this be, when the Fiesta Bowl pays each participating university $17.5 million to play in the game? It’s simple. While the payouts are split evenly by all members of the teams’ conferences, it’s up to the teams themselves to cover the massive travel expenses for the game and guarantee the sale of 17,500 expensive tickets each. Baylor ended up “returning”, but still paying for, 5,000 unsold tickets. For UCF, the number was 10,000, costing the school some $2 million. At least Baylor’s losses will be covered by the other Big 12 schools agreeing to take a smaller cut of the conference payout.
UCF and Baylor weren’t alone. Many of the 70 teams that participated in bowls this year lost money because of ticket purchase guarantees. Not to mention travel expenses, where schools must guarantee that they’ll stay in bowl-designated hotels that charge expensive rates. The universities rightly recognize that playing in a bowl game delivers valuable exposure to the school and its football program, an extra 15 practices for the team and an element of prestige. It’s unfortunate, however, that in some cases it costs the university funds to receive these rewards.
The irony for UCF was that, going into the last week of the season, it looked like they would be invited to either the Sugar Bowl or the Orange Bowl, both within driving distance of the Orlando campus. Either would have virtually guaranteed a sellout of their ticket allotment. But when Northern Illinois was upset by Bowling Green, the Knights took NIU’s spot in the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona – a destination out of reach for most of their fans.
One suggestion might be to free the bowls from their mandated conference tie-ins and allow them to include teams from their immediate region. This year’s New Orleans Bowl, for example, got it right when they invited essentially two home teams in Tulane and Louisiana-Lafayette. Nearly 55,000 fans attended. Ticket guarantees and travel expenses weren’t issues.
With the expansion of the bowl scene next year and the introduction of the College Football Playoff, which means millions more flowing into college football, we hope that steps will be taken to ensure that no university will suffer a financial loss by accepting the “reward” of a bowl bid.
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