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April 8, 2011

Mailbag: Where does the bowl money go?

Everyone knows college football is a big business and generates millions of dollars from a variety of sources.

Some programs routinely sell out 100,000- seat stadiums (with season tickets often going for at least $400) and reap the parking and concessions revenues that go with it. Private donations from fans and alums roll in, especially for successful teams.

Millions are made from TV deals, and some programs are even starting their own networks.

Then there is the money that comes from reaching a bowl game. Obscure bowl games make high six-figure payouts to competing teams. The BCS bowl games make multimillion-dollar payouts.

Yet, some programs claim to lose money when they play in bowl games, even in the lucrative national championship game.

How does this happen? Are the losses legitimate? Those are questions to explore in this week's mailbag.

Got a question? Click here to send it to Olin's Mailbag

Doesn't add up

I was just reading a story about BCS bowl teams who lost money playing in bowls. How could that be? Doesn't each team get millions? I have heard they must give half to the conference and they get to keep the rest for their own. How could the expenses of sending a team to a BCS bowl exceed the payout?
Gene in Anderson, S.C.

Actually, it's quite common for teams that go to bowl games to lose money. Still, it does strain credulity that a program that receives multimillion-dollar payouts from a BCS bowl could show a loss.

Auburn appeared to take a $600,000 loss from the BCS championship game, but whether the program actually lost money on the game depends on interpretation.

The SEC provided Auburn with about $2.3 million for bowl expenses. Auburn reportedly took 938 people to the national championship game – players, coaches, band, cheerleaders and school officials.

A Birmingham (Ala.) News report said Auburn spent $1,044,319 on travel, almost $900,000 on meals and lodging and nearly $20,000 on entertainment. In addition, Auburn reportedly lost more than $700,000 for failing to sell almost 2,500 of its allotment of 17,400 tickets.

All told, Auburn's expenses came to about $2.9 million. There's the $600,000 loss.

There's a but here, though: That loss is shown before the bowl payout is factored in. The championship game payout reportedly was $24.7 million.

Here is a quick look at the SEC's bowl distribution formula:

For bowl games providing receipts that result in a balance of at least $6 million, the participating institution shall receive $1,825,000 ($1,925,000 if the SEC team is a participant in the BCS game that determines the national championship) plus a travel allowance as determined by the SEC Executive Committee. The remainder shall be remitted to the commissioner and will be divided into 13 equal shares, with one share to the conference and one share to each member institution.

Let's say the SEC added a $375,000 travel allowance to the $1,925,000 that Auburn received for playing in the championship game. That would account for the $2.3 million Auburn initially received from the SEC for expenses.

Subtract that from the bowl payout, and $22.4 million was left to be divided 13 ways; that comes out to $1.723 million. So, even with the $600,000 "loss" in travel expenses, Auburn still made about $1.123 million.

Wanna bet?

Let's say you and I would bet on the national champion for next season. I'll give you 35 picks, and I'll take the SEC. I'd probably win.
Terry in Baton Rouge, La.

Predicting against an SEC team to win the national championship isn't a smart move. That's been proven beyond debate in each of the past five years.

But by taking the SEC, you're really getting just two teams that I think are capable of winning the national championship, Alabama and LSU (and I have some reservations about LSU).

There are other good teams in the SEC, but none that strike me as bona-fide national championship contenders.

Auburn has lost Cam Newton, Nick Fairley, most of its offensive line, its two best linebackers and three of its top four receivers. Florida has a first-year coach, a rebuilt offensive line, a defense that surrendered more than 30 points five times last season and quarterback issues. Arkansas has a new quarterback and new starting offensive tackles. Georgia will depend too heavily on freshmen. South Carolina remains too inconsistent.

By giving me virtually the rest of the nation, I get Oklahoma, Oregon, Stanford, Ohio State, etc. The odds certainly would be on my side.

I still wouldn't take the bet, though.

Changes in Lincoln

Change has been the key word for Nebraska this year. How do you think the Huskers will handle life in the Big Ten? How do you see all the coaching changes impacting the Huskers' performance? Finally, do you think Taylor Martinez starts at quarterback?
Zac in Lincoln, Neb.

The change is coaching staff will have some effect, but I don't think it will be major. After all, the Cornhuskers have won at least nine games in each of their three seasons under coach Bo Pelini. Perhaps with Tim Beckmanb in charge of the offense the Huskers will be more explosive, but then they consistently were putting up big numbers last season until Martinez was slowed by injuries.

Although there were some issues between Pelini and Martinez (which led to rumors that Martinez might transfer), I'd bet Martinez will be directing the offense this fall. He's a major threat as a runner. Martinez does need to mature and develop leadership skills, but Pelini recently suggested he's making progress in those areas, too.

"I'm seeing a lot of good things from him," Pelini told HuskerOnLine.com, part of the Rivals.com network. "He's improved in a lot of areas. I think his leadership and how he's running the team has improved. I'm seeing a lot of good things from Taylor."

I think Nebraska fans will see a lot of good things from the Huskers this fall. In fact, they would be my pick to win the Legends Division of the Big Ten.

Some thing to remember: Teams that are new to conferences have a history of winning championships. Houston won the old Southwest Conference in its first season in that league (1975). In 1992, Florida State won the ACC title as a newcomer, as did Virginia Tech in 2004. Texas was a newcomer to the Big 12 (let's face it: four SWC schools joined the Big Eight) in 1996. TCU won the Mountain West in 2005 as a first-year member.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if Nebraska joins that list of teams to win championships in their first season in a new conference.

Spurrier's best?

I know Steve Spurrier's Florida teams consistently competed for SEC championships and the national championship on a few occasions. Where would you rank this season's South Carolina Gamecocks against those teams on a strictly talent level? With the players coming back for the Gamecocks, what are your predictions for them this season? Is there a slim chance the Gamecocks make their first national championship game appearance?
Henry in Sumter, S.C.

Obviously, that question would be better answered by Spurrier, but from this perspective it would seem the Gamecocks would be comparable to some of Spurrier's early teams at Florida.

It wasn't like Florida was producing first-round draft choices with assembly line efficiency back then. In fact, defensive end Huey Richardson was Florida's only first-round pick in Spurrier's first four seasons.

South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is as good – or better – than any of the outstanding receivers that Spurrier had at Florida. Running back Marcus Lattimore would seem to compare favorably with Errict Rhett and Fred Taylor. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore and defensive end Devin Taylor are returning all-conference selections. Center T.J. Johnson is a good one. Overall, the Gamecocks' front line talent is good.

But South Carolina doesn't have the depth that Spurrier's teams at Florida had. Remember that the Gators under Spurrier won eight SEC East titles and five league crowns in 11 seasons; the Gamecocks have one SEC East title in his six seasons in Columbia.

The most obvious difference is at quarterback, where Spurrier had Heisman recipient Danny Wuerffel (1996) and Heisman runner-up Rex Grossman (2001) leading his offenses. At South Carolina, he has Stephen Garcia, who was suspended this week for the second time this spring.

But any team with players such as Jeffery, Lattimore, Gilmore and Taylor has to be taken seriously. I think the Gamecocks will win the SEC East again, though I'd take Alabama or LSU to win the conference championship.

Still, South Carolina has a good chance to reach the SEC title game, which means it shouldn't totally be ignored in the national championship discussion.

Las Vegas lists the Gamecocks' odds of winning the national championship at 30-to-1, so they're a long shot. Still, they're good enough to put down $20 and hope for the best.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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