With the recent smattering of articles chronicling the annual rite of big-time spending at the largest bowl games – Connecticut, Virginia Tech, Auburn and Oregon – the usual criticisms have come out:
"The bowls are a sham."
"The bowls are deep-pocketed conspirators that are trying to keep a playoff out of college football."
"Schools can't say no to the bowls because they have a monopoly."
"The bowls are only in it for TV ratings and profits."
Technically, the last one is true. A bowl's primary operating directive is to lure a good football team so its fans travel and spend money in the host city. This fills hotel rooms and generates sales tax revenue that keeps cities happy.
What irks me is how fans and pundits alike always want to blame the bowls for their ticket and hotel guarantees, which are the main reason schools lose money.
News flash: This is the 14th year of the current BCS bowl structure. The deals have been re-upped three times for more money with conferences and television sponsorships because they are a cash cow to the universities and conferences. New bowls are added every year. We now have 35 games with the addition of the New Era Pinstripe and TicketCity Bowls.
Why do these bowls keep cropping up? Because they make money. Why do they make money? Because the conferences agree to pay them.
Most fans don't realize it, but when a bowl game and a conference negotiate all of the terms described in the newspaper, all financial terms are discussed and agreed upon beforehand. Conference officials and a group of athletic directors representing the conferences schools sign off on ticket guarantees, hotel room guarantees, size of the travelling party and, in some cases, suite purchase guarantees.
Everyone knows what they are getting into when they decide to align with a particular bowl game. The schools choose to take on the risk that they might be selected for that particular game and the expenses that come with it.
In almost every conference, bowl revenue money is pooled together and redistributed among the schools, with a share going to the conference. This means Baylor can sit at home watching other schools play and receive the same amount of bowl money. The $17.5 million Fiesta Bowl payout that OU accepted went straight to the Big 12 conference.
Conferences do this so every team can afford to play in the games and cover their bottom line if they lose money. It's good for the schools' branding and fundraising, as well as the conference's image, for an institution to participate in a bowl game. Conferences know this and hedge their bets by ensuring there's enough money to go around to take care of all the travel expenses and unused tickets that schools can't afford.
In the last week, it was revealed that the University of Oklahoma actually made money off their trip to the Fiesta Bowl in January. The only reason OU came back in the black was due to a Big 12 policy on picking up the tab of unused tickets – more than $1.8 million worth of them. The game was the third time in the last five years that Oklahoma has played in the desert. The Sooners knew what they were getting and still charged in headfirst.
The bottom line is that next time you read an article bashing the bowls for overcharging on everything to make money off of the helpless schools, remember that the programs have known that the bill was coming for years.
If you really want to blame someone for accepting high prices on tickets and hotel rooms, try the conferences and athletic directors who gave the okay.