Written by Andrew Ottoson Friday, 02 January 2009 02:46
After the BCS presidents politely told Barack Obama that there would be no football playoff system, I started wondering whether anyone represents taxpayers when state-run super-universities broker huge television contracts.
Like it or not, because of the massive amount of money involved, this is an issue that has big-time implications—especially for people who spend the first weeknights of the New Year watching football.
Spencer Tillman of CBS Sports reports: “University presidents have signed on for a deal with ESPN that includes exclusive television, radio, digital, international and marketing rights for the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls from 2011-14 and the Bowl Championship Series title game from 2011-13. The $125 million a year payout is about 40 percent more than the current contract with Fox. This is likely the end of ‘free’ BCS Championship TV as we know it.”
The ESPN deal doesn't really reflect the complexity of the process of funding bowl games.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the 34 bowls pay the teams or their conferences appearance fees ranging from $300,000 to $18 million per visit, and the bowls themselves turn a profit by selling TV rights, corporate sponsorships and tickets.
Call me crazy, but shouldn’t all of those numbers slide toward the low end when the quality of competition declines?
It’s a valid question because there were only 61 bowl eligible teams as of Nov. 21.
There are 68 slots in the 34 bowl games, so unless some of the better teams had been scheduled for multiple games, the NCAA would have had to let teams with losing records play in the post-season.
And not everyone breathed a sigh of relief when 70-something teams ended up 6-6 or better.
The Big Ten, the SEC, the Pac-10 and the Big XII did not produce enough eligible teams to meet all of their obligations to their affiliated bowls. So on Dec. 28, the annual SEC/Big XII showdown Independence Bowl featured Northern Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech. In case you didn’t notice, that matchup pitted fourth place in the MAC-West vs. the WAC runner-up.
* * *
This seems like as good a time as any to renew my annual resolution to not watch any of the bowl games. It'll be a little bit easier this year than it was last year, and not just because the reception on my aging analog TV gets a little bit worse every day.
* * *
Two worthwhile side notes from the Chronicle of Higher Education:
On Sept. 22, 2006, the Chronicle published a story about an investigation of college sports by the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee. The committee was (and may still be) considering whether or not the tax-exempt status of universities and their sports programs makes sense.
According to the May 23, 2008, Chronicle, 16 of the 17 NCAA schools that actually turn profits on sports operate at the Division 1-A level, where the median salaries for head football coaches grew from $582,000 to $885,500 between 2004 and 2006. Basketball coach salaries at that level climbed 15 percent, to $611,900.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
* * *
The bowls get extra attention, but the real genius of the BCS system is that it yields what the BCS presidents call “the most compelling regular season in all of sports.”
Isn’t that obvious from the money thrown at regular-season broadcast rights?
The Southeastern Conference recently signed 15-year broadcast deals with ESPN and CBS that total $205 million per year for the 12-team SEC. According to Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Journal, CBS bought the choicest cut of the SEC steak for $825 million, and ESPN paid $2.25 billion for the leftovers. Again, not that there's anything wrong with that.
But if the BCS presidents think I’m going to watch a bowl game just because it’s on TV, they’ve got another thing coming.