The illusion of fan frustration over which institutions of academic excellence and amateur athletics get selected to represent in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) ought to be shattered along with that cheesy-crystal-football-Texas-bank-board-room-ash-tray-looking trophy at the conclusion of the current system’s final season.
It’s as if the full-coffer’d selection consortium has created one of the most compelling distractions of our time, diverting attentions away from college football’s profit-mongering and mismanagement of public funds and instead drawing attention to the red herring of the frequented format and ancient algorithm for choosing its participants.
Latent flaws in the BCS selection process has been fodder for fan frustration for just about the entirety of the system’s decade-and-a-half run, yet these missteps trifle next to the outrageousness of the NCAA football’s estimated $20 billion-plus bottom line off the backs of football players who barely receive room and board for the effort.
How this ridiculous wealth is distributed (and not taxed) should be the real reason for outrage …and the fan can protest – by walking away.
But they won’t.
On January 6, 2014, 92,000 will file in to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and an estimated 30 million more will watch and munch and punch in front of their flat screens. All will be volunteer participants in an annual cabal that generates hundreds of millions of dollars in the name of nonprofit and government subsidy — socialism in the name of football, to those of you who oppose The Obamacare.
Closing out its improbable 120-year run as the only revenue-rich college sport without a playoff system, the BCS, a consortium of the 11 conferences as well as independent Notre Dame, has since 1998 taken mightily from the till of the the four biggest bowl games — the Rose, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar, plus one at-large — on behalf of the schools it represents.
At the cusp of its farewell tour, the current-formatted BCS is projected to generate record receipts. Almost a half-billion dollars is expected to float out of the fan’s wallet to help subsidize ticket, TV and concession revenue over a seven-day span.
Last year’s national champion Alabama ran away with almost $24 million for the single-game effort, the majority of which went to its conference. To conference-free Notre Dame, the runner up, a $6.2 million jackpot directly lined the Pope’s pockets. The BCS, which routinely takes in about $180 million tax-free per year for bowl seasons, redistributes 80 percent of the money back to the six power conferences that helped create the monster.
Though the NCAA is profiting well off free gladiator labor, nobody’s billfolds burst more than those of the bowl officials themselves.
All at-large participating bowls are designated as tax-exempt nonprofits so there’s no mandate they pay back …or give back. This year’s projected record at the turnstyle will punctuate more than a decade and a half double-dipping with a big old dollar sign.
In 2005, the same year as Hurricane Katrina, the Sugar Bowl took more than $1 million tax-free dollars from the state of Louisiana and turned that into more than $10 million in profit.
In 2006, the year following the largest natural disaster in US history which took more than 1,800 lives and did an estimated $81 billion in damage to bowl host New Orleans, the Sugar Bowl’s cash reserve coffers swelled to more than $34 million and its CEO Paul Hoolahan’s salary to $593k.
In 2007, the year the Sugar Bowl hosted the BCS championship game, Hoolahan’s salary ballooned to almost $650,000 his pay well in the top 10 percent of executives who run nonprofits more than twice the size, according to the Arizona Republic. That year the Sugar Bowl made $11.6 million in profit — all tax-free.
In other words, not only are the bowl games’ government subsidies and safeguards recession-proof, they’re natural disaster-proof.
How do they get away with it? Bowl officials and cooperating convention and visitors’ bureau shills claim in the name of self-preservation that the games pump hundreds of millions of dollars into their local economies. If there’s anything CVB and bowl brass have to work hard on, it’s ginning up compelling numbers to back their existence.
In 2010, the Sugar Bowl claimed almost $150 million was stuffed back into the local economy, that’s a lot of hurricanes, shirt lifts and shiny beads.
The Scottsdale CVB signed a 20-year deal to pay the Fiesta Bowl $8.2 million in 2006. The CVB gets the city’s hotel rack tax and teams must stay and eat in Scottsdale.
While the Sugar Bowl is the richest of them all, the Orange Bowl also tops $30 million in cash and the Fiesta Bowl has more than $25 million in its savings. Only the Rose Bowl, which claims to have never taken a government handout, sports a paltry $20 million in its reserves.
As a result, all of the major bowl CEOs have annual salaries in excess of $500k. Keep in mind their job boils down to one game per year. Of the 8,765 hours in one of the Earth’s trips around the sun, a bowl exec punches in for three.
Scandal is no stranger to the front offices of these elite bowls either. In 2009 alone, Fiesta Bowl execs spent six figures on a golf trip in 2010 and the bowl’s embattled erstwhile CEO John Junker dropped $1,200 of petty cash at a strip club.
But that’s pocket change compared to the $3.3 million spent on the The Fiesta Frolic, an annual haj for the bowl organizers of the Grand Canyon state. The Orange Bowl execs have their Summer Splash retreat which runs well into six figures per year. That’s a lot of shrimp cocktail and on-demand executive mini-suite porn.
As many host municipalities have either gone belly up or had to ask for government hand outs of their own (Tempe, New Orleans) the budget for bowl games in the name of community betterment hasn’t ebbed. While money designated for health and social services like first responders, homeless shelters, food banks, career training and education has been cut in Miami, Scottsdale and the Big Easy, the public still pays to keep the tailgater alive.
But here’s the best part: When the BCS switches to playoff format in 2014 it is set to become even richer. The current bowl game contract with ESPN was signed in 2008 and a renewal is expected to skyrocket well into the ten-figure range.
That’s two billion additional reasons to boycott the BCS, in case you’re keeping score.