“Who wants another iPod?”

I’ve said it before, but as a group if there’s a more clueless bunch than collegiate sports administrators when it comes to handling money, I’d love to see ‘em. Maybe Congress in all of its infinite wisdom is worse, but it’s a closer call than you’d think.

Read an article like this and you realize why coaches’ salaries are out of control all over the country. Start with these three profiles in fiscal prudence:

Northern Illinois, 2006 Poinsettia Bowl: NIU sent 434 people to San Diego, costing the school about $916,800 in expenses. The school’s share of the payout was $598,901, leaving NIU with a $317,898 deficit, more than the school spent last year on six of its nine women’s sports combined.

Ohio University, 2006 GMAC Bowl: Former Nebraska coach Frank Solich led Ohio to its first bowl appearance since 1968. The celebration in Athens, however, was short-lived. A $277,550 bowl deficit was more than an athletic department already awash in red ink and facing Title IX sanctions could take. The university was forced to dip into general reserve funds to pay the bowl tab and just weeks after the game the school dropped track, swimming and lacrosse, leaving 383 athletes without teams. Ohio spent less than $200,000 annually on the three dropped programs.

Texas A&M, 2006 Holiday Bowl: The Aggies ran up a Texas-sized deficit — $489,978 — in San Diego. A&M’s awards expenditures explain some of the red ink. The Aggies spent nearly as much on awards for players and staff — $133,645 — as Florida and Ohio State did combined. Two years earlier, A&M spent $198,395 on awards at the Cotton Bowl.

As you read the article, it is obvious that the level of fiscal mismanagement is staggering. Even worse, it’s accelerating.

…Nearly half the schools competing in last year’s 32 bowl games lost money, according to the Register study that also reviewed conference financial documents, NCAA bowl records and athletic department financial reports filed with the U.S. Department of Education for all 120 universities in the NCAA Bowl Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-A.

The 64 teams playing in postseason games last season had combined bowl expenses of $69.7 million, a $16.8 million increase from just four years earlier. [Emphasis added.]

And as much as some of these schools’ administrators want to bitch and moan about how they’re expected to carry the bowl mandated expenses of hotel rooms and meals that they don’t really need, what comes across over and over again is how little self control these institutions have.

“Bowls used to be a celebration of success,” former NCAA executive director Cedric Dempsey said. “Now you have 6-6 teams going to bowls. And they’re taking everybody under the sun that has ever had anything to do with the university.”

For last year’s Sun Bowl, Oregon State and Missouri paid for 1,186 people to make the trip to El Paso. Wisconsin took three Bucky Badger mascots to one recent bowl.

“I guess if the first two Buckys get too wasted on New Year’s Eve,” said Sperber, the former Drake Group chairman, “you’ve still got a third Bucky for the Rose Bowl.”

There’s a basic truth that a lot of these folks ignore in their planning: the worse the regular season finish, the less enthusiasm in the fan base for the post season. This shouldn’t be rocket science:

“It’s not just Oregon State,” Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen said. “We’ve absorbed a lot of tickets for virtually everybody in the conference. Once you get below about the third-place (allocated) game, you’re not going to get a great deal of fans’ support.”

And yet, these schools take the offer year after year.

… Universities and their conferences have absorbed $51.8 million in unsold bowl tickets since 2002. In last season’s Cotton Bowl, Auburn and Nebraska were stuck with $932,040 in unsold tickets. Eighty-six percent of the schools in non-BCS games last season ate unsold tickets.

“The ticket allocating is killing us,” said Georgia Tech’s Mayfield. The Yellow Jackets ate $400,180 in unsold tickets for last year’s Gator Bowl. “When you have a season-ticket base of 25,000 and the bowl is making you sell 10,000 to 13,000 tickets, getting 50 percent of those season-ticket holders to go to a bowl can be unrealistic.”

Damn. And I thought NATS fans were falling all over themselves to get to Boise this year. And those Missouri fans complaining about getting screwed by the Orange Bowl? Take a good look in the mirror, pal.

… While Oregon State and Missouri might have paid for a lot of people to go to last year’s Sun Bowl, not many fans followed the Beavers and Tigers to El Paso. Each school was allocated 8,000 tickets. Oregon State sold 2,097, Missouri 2,025.

In fact, college football veterans said Missouri’s inability to sell more than 23 percent of its ticket allocations for its last two bowl appearances was a significant factor in the Orange Bowl choosing Kansas over the Tigers, even though Missouri beat the Jayhawks during the regular season.

Are the bowl committees being a bit greedy in mandating the hotel stays and dining expenses? Perhaps, but, just like with coaching salaries, nobody is holding a gun to the head of any school administrator. Their eagerness to participate in a bowl game is exploitable, and will continue to be as long as these schools and their conferences are willing to bear the fallout. And as much as these folks want to blame the “system” for the problem, the self-inflicted wounds are equally bloody.

…The high prices, however, haven’t stopped the party. University-financed New Year’s Eve parties, hospitality suites with 24-hour bar service, golf outings, tickets to concerts and sporting events and endless dinners and cocktail receptions have run up a combined $5.1 million tab in bowl-related entertainment over the past five seasons.

That total doesn’t include gifts schools give players, staff, administrators, boosters, sponsors and even university employee spouses and children.

Idiots.

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2 Comments

Filed under College Football, It's Just Bidness

2 responses to ““Who wants another iPod?”

  1. Boy, does that post make me proud (and relieved) to be a Georgia Bulldog — a fan of a program that a) makes a bigger profit than anyone else in the country, b) gets invited to worthwhile bowl games, and c) has legions of fans lining up to buy tickets the second a bowl invite is announced. [I don't have evidence for d) has better things to do than spend $200K on random-ass awards for players at the bowl game, but I think it's a pretty safe bet.]

    I wonder if all this is going to come to a head and result in a widespread dying-out of crap bowl games such as the New Mexico and the Papajohns.com and the blah blah blah, but somehow I doubt it. As much heat as, say, NIU might have taken for going into a $318K hole to accept a bowl bid, imagine how much worse the outcry would’ve been if they hadn’t accepted the invite.

  2. Methinks your item b) is dramatically affected by your item c).

    As for bowl games dying out, as long as ESPN makes money and as long as we have these kind of decision makers at D-1 universities, I don’t think there’s much chance of it.