The Bowl 'System'
Many viewers who watched Carolina’s dismal loss to Missouri in the Independence Bowl Monday night – an apt ending to the ugly Butch Davis era – wondered why the Tar Heels even agreed to go to Shreveport, Louisiana, over Christmas. If the NCAA is coming with at least a one-year bowl ban, why not self-impose it this season that ended with a thud anyway?
If UNC officials knew they were headed for perhaps the worst bowl and site among the 35 post-season games, perhaps they would have done so. But up to virtually the last minute before bowl selection Sunday on December 4, Carolina was hoping for a bid to the Military Bowl in Washington, D.C., where the fan support would have been 10 times what it was in Shreveport.
The way it turned out and the bowl “system” works, UNC might have netted out more money by not going to the Independence Bowl. And the players, some of whom bitched before, during and after the game, could have spent Christmas at home with their families.
As is, Carolina claims to have used about 1,000 of the 10,000 tickets it was required to purchase. I asked a few people who were actually there, and they said a “smattering” of blue was seen among the estimated attendance of 10,000 in a 50,000-seat stadium on a cold, damp night. And that does not include the UNC band, which was obviously there because so many tickets were available and the school also had to commit to buying a certain number of hotel rooms for five nights.
No one gets filthy rich in the current bowl system, except the bowls themselves, most of which enjoy non-profit status because they are aligned with some charity that receives no more than 3 percent of the bowl revenue, according to published reports. The money, and there is a lot of it, goes back to the bowls to pay absurd salaries to the bowl executive directors and their staffs and their equally absurd expense accounts.
The days are long gone where men in funny-colored blazers have to show up at regular-season games all over the country to actually “scout” possible participants for their bowl games. That’s because all major conferences have “tie ins” with bowls, from the Rose (which most years pits the Big Ten vs. Pac 12 champions) on down to the seventh and eighth place teams. That’s how Carolina got to Shreveport; when time came for the Independence to select, it had the seventh pick from the ACC. The Mountain West and Sun Belt, the other conferences with ties to the Independence, had no bowl eligible teams left. At selection time, Missouri from the Big 12 (headed to the SEC) was still available.
So UNC received the 10,000 tickets it was required to purchase. In some of the bigger bowls, the guarantee goes as high as 17,500 tickets. The school, and/or its conference, is responsible for those tickets, along with the aforementioned hotel block and, of course, travel arrangements to arrive the required number of days before the bowl. In Carolina’s case, it was by December 22 – so the team spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day trying to make the best of it. Players’ families had to pay their own way, and few of them could or would.
According to the ACC, member schools invited to bowls are 100 percent responsible for the first 6,000 tickets they are required to buy. The next 2,000 are split by the conference and school at some percentage (say 50-50) and the league picks up the tab for every unsold ticket over 8,000. That expense comes off the top at the back end when the total bowl revenues go to the ACC and net revenues are divided equally among all 12 schools, whether they went bowling or not.
Participating schools do get expense accounts for their travel costs that are predetermined by which bowl game and site they are attending.
So if UNC did sell 1,000 tickets, it ate the next 5,000 and probably half of the next 2,000. At an average ticket price of $40 (which is way cheaper than most bowls), that’s a $240,000 check the athletic department had to write to the Independence Bowl. Let’s be generous and say that on top of its expense account for travel, which also includes flying everyone to and from Louisiana, Carolina spent another $60,000 for a $300,000 nut that will be covered by the ACC’s bowl payout.
This is the first year that two ACC schools will play in BCS games – ACC champion Clemson in the Orange Bowl and runner-up Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. That means a larger total bowl payout than normal for the ACC, estimated by the Triangle Business Journal to be in excess of $40 million.
Individual bowl payouts vary from the famous Idaho Potato Bowl ($650,000) to the BCS bowls (more than $20 million each) to the BCS Championship game, which the ACC has yet to play in (likely in the $40 million range). Those payouts are split by the participating schools and constitute about half of what each bowl makes from ticket sales, TV contracts and sponsorships – the bowls keep the other half to pay some of their executive directors as much as $800,000 a year to minister one game!
All this fuzzy math is beginning to gain focus and may contribute to the death of the BCS, which most people want to kill in favor of a collegiate playoff system. At least then, more of the money would go back to the schools that are in dire need of help due to major cost-cutting on campuses across the country. I can also see a major bowl reform movement coming because the wrong people are getting rich.
Eight ACC teams will have played in bowl games this season, and a lot of tickets were eaten by those schools and the conference. At this moment, Florida State is the only ACC team to play at a sold out stadium. The Seminoles rallied to beat Notre Dame Thursday night in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando.
Clemson and Virginia Tech will receive the largest expense allocation because they are in BCS games, and the other six schools in bowls get some money back on top of the equal payout to all 12 ACC members – even those four that did not go bowling. That’s the value of belonging to a conference that revenue shares.
Duke gets an equal share of the bowl payout even though the Blue Devils have not been to a bowl game in almost 20 years. Likewise, schools that rarely make the NCAA basketball tournament share in the payout that the Duke and Carolina juggernauts contribute to mightily every year.
In UNC’s case, the estimated 300 grand it ate for unsold tickets and hotel rooms in Shreveport will be more than covered by its final net bowl payout from the ACC. So it looks like the school did not lose any money going to a bowl, even the sickly Independence.
It just made a little less.