Thursday, February 15, 2007

Reptiles, Horses, and Felines...oh my!

What do alligators, free-roaming horses, jungle cats, and an ancient Greek citizen have in common? Each represents a mascot for the winning college football team is last year's Bowl Championship Series. In the intervening 6 months since Florida "upset" undefeated Ohio State by 4 touchdowns, the excitement and controversy surrouding collegiate athletics has been overshadowed by doping, dogfighting, gambling, and Barry Bonds huge skull. But as the ESPN College Gameday crew begins their cross-country trek to Berkeley, California for Cal's opening day matchup vs. Tennessee, I'd like to reignite the fire.

College athletics, generally, are an interesting creature. Many programs provide an opportunity for like-minded and able-bodied students to learn teamwork, get exercise, and compete (like more expensive alternatives to the chess club). For many students, watching these spectacles is an inseparable part of the university "experience" and "culture." Most programs have a goal to turn a profit, but most struggle to just break even.

Football programs, specifically, are no different. Except for a very small handful of schools (those perenially ranked in the top 25), most schools are lucky to break even. BYU and the University of Utah are on the cusp. In 2005-2006, Cougar football generated just less than $10.5 million in revenue, but had over $8.5 million in operating costs. Add to the mix all of the scholarships, financial aid, and personal tutors and the program can reliably be counted on for about $1 million a year. The situation is similar at the University of Utah, although the numbers are smaller ($9.3 million in revenues, $7.9 million of expenses). Powerhouse programs like the University of Southern California, Ohio State at Columbus, and Florida University generate almost $30 million of revenue each year, and more than $10 million in profits. Smaller programs like Tulsa, Utah State, New Mexico State, and Marshall in "mid-major" conferences like the WAC, the MAC, Sunbelt, and Conference USA lose money every year. And the future is not bright.

Much of the controversy surrounds the structure and rewards of postseason play. For many teams, a trip to a bowl game is icing on the cake. It's a chance to play on national television, show off for NFL scouts, and get a all-expenses paid vacation to a sunny destination in December (or January if you're lucky). Unfortunately, the financial rewards are less exciting. Travel and accommodations for close to 200 people usually eats up all (and sometimes more) of the bowl's payout. For too many schools, the "reward" of a bowl game is a line of red numbers in the budget. The exception, of course, is the Bowl Championship Series.

Five bowl games comprise the 9-year old BCS. Whereas non-BCS bowl games have payouts between $325,000 to $4.25 million per team/conference represented. Each BCS game, however, pays out $17 million to each conference represented (and an additional $4.5 million if the conference has 2 teams). There are a host of procedures for determining who qualifies to participate. For the official, comprehensive, constitution-like explanation of these procedures, click here.

I'm curious what you (dormant) readers of LYMA think about the system. To lure you out of your non-blogging slumber, here is a list of 5 specific questions that I'd love your thoughts on:

1) Should college football teams remain attached to universities under the thinly-veiled guise that they are merely extracurricular programs that provide an outlet for otherwise studiously-minded college students?

2) Should college football programs secede from their university affiliations and form a semi-pro, for-profit developmental league?

3) Do the benefits of a multi-team postseason playoff outweigh the (not only financial) costs?

4) Should Congress have a mandate to intervene in the college bowl game (BCS and non-BCS) and/or a playoff payoff structure? Is this really an anti-trust issue?

5) Tennessee at Cal. Who wins? (Or if you insist on remaining Utah-centric: Utah at BYU on Nov. 24, what are the odds we see another 24-21 game?)




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