Monday, July 23, 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 in last year's Bowl Championship Series. In the intervening 6 months since Florida "upset" undefeated Ohio State by 4 touchdowns, USC beat a disenfranchised Michigan team, Notre Dame surprised nobody by getting thumped by LSU, Louisville beat Wake Forest in the most forgettable game in history, and Boise State beat Oklahoma in one of the most exciting football games in history, 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.

College 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. While both programs lost money in 2002-2003, they have fared better more recently. 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 generated about $1 million of pure profit that year. The situation is similar at the University of Utah, although the numbers were 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 consistently 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 their 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?)


At 7/25/2007 01:02:00 PM,


Looks like its just you and me again.

I think that the school affiliation is crutial to the game. It's great that everyone at the school (or that has been at the school) can feel like they are a part of it. Profit is a big deal, but it isn't the only deal. As you point out, many teams loose money or don't make enough to get by. They continue to exist because they are not entirely ruled by the bottom line. There are still some things (providing an education for people that might not get the chance) things that make the loss of money seem worth it to those who run and donate to these programs. If it were only a semi-pro league do you think that Idaho state would still bother to even have a team? I think that truthfully I just like the idea of a school team.

The BCS money grab however is a joke. First of all there is absolutley no reason to give automatic bids to certain conferences. Take the top ten teams regardless of where they play (The Big East?!). A playoff would be better for everyone except the big conferences and the bowl sponsors. It could easily be scheduled to fit in the existing timeframe and look at how much everyone loves the NFL playoffs and March Madness, in the long run it would be more profitable as well as more fair.

At 7/25/2007 01:10:00 PM,

Shame on you for writing interesting, coherent posts on this blog that has been left for dead!! What are you trying to do here?

I don't know about the money aspect, but from a fan's perspective, I think the whole college football system is a joke. What other sport, in the entire world, plays a full season then takes 6 weeks off only to have half of the teams then play eachother in absolutely meaningless games.

The problem with bowl games is the same problem with mid-season baseball: there's no reason to watch because it doesn't matter who wins. The opposite of this is the NCAA basketball tournament where everygame, no matter what, is important.

I don't care how they do it, but something needs to be done so that post-season college football means something for teams besides the two playing in the championship game. Otherwise we might as well watch pre-season pro football (or mid-season baseball).

At 7/25/2007 01:30:00 PM,

i read all the posts, and enjoy them immensely. i just don't post or comment anymore (with this one exception, so you know you are loved). sheldon

At 7/25/2007 03:03:00 PM,

Chris M.G.,

I agree with you that automatic bids are unfair, especially since so much of the money goes to the entire conference. That means football teams like Indiana, Kentucky, and North Carolina are making money every year without ever playing in the postseason.

Other non-money related issues would continue, even with a semi-pro league. In theory, all of the best players and coaches would go to the developmental league. Colleges and universities would maintain their programs: they'd all have mediocre, but fairly matched teams...even in Southern Idaho (kind of like Arena Football). True, this sounds a lot like communism. But with all of the money involved, something has to be done.

As for a playoff, I disagree that everyone benefits except for the big conferences. On the contrary, the big losers in a playoff system are the "mid major" and smaller schools and conferences. Currently, about 50 or so teams play a bowl game (and earn some money). If a playoff were instituted, the number of postseason teams would drop to 16 or possibly 8. Assuming that sponsors would still be interested in the college postseason, the payouts to these 16 teams would be even higher than in the current BCS system. And since the same 20-30 teams are always in the top 16, it's likely that the disparity the BCS has created would only continue.

While you (Chris P.) may not be interested in the Meineke Bowl, or the Bowl or the Holiday Bowl, the system was implemented to reward every team with a winning record, and provides a minimum $325,000 per participant.

The only drawback is that there is no consensus on which program is the "ultimate champion." And ultimately it seems that any system is a failure if it doesn't tell us which team is the best. At the root of this controversy seems to be a disagreement over the purpose of a college football team. If the purpose is to create school spirit, alumni pride, fun Saturday memories, and a chance to educate a few who may not otherwise choose to enroll in college, then why not have a series of 25 bowl games that contributes to all of this? These are universities, after all NOT sports academies.

If, on the other hand, the purpose of the program is develop athletes into NFL-caliber stars, prove that your school is better than your rival, and make a ton of cash then a playoff system (or BCS, or limited, meaningful postseason, or even a semi-pro developmental league) seems reasonable.

I understand the sentiment that drives the latter argument. Isn't the point of sports to win? I, however, am more inclined to support a broader, old-school bowl system that lets players spend a week in the sun, play a game on national TV, and feel like their winning record means something. In the end, most of them are going pro in something other than sports.

Disclaimer: I went to UVSC and Columbia where college football did NOT play a part in my campus experience. It's true that I'm currently a student at Cal, whose team is decent, but I'm a grad student and prefer to watch the games on TV.

At 7/25/2007 03:06:00 PM,

And Sheldon, it's nice to hear from you.

At 7/25/2007 06:02:00 PM,

I think that I average 1 post a year -- so this is it for 2007. Enjoy!!

I agree with Chris that it is one of the few things that keeps universities in the news, and therefore alumni attached to their alma mater. Also, with universities trying to brand themselves and get more students to enroll, this is partly self-preservation and partly good business acumen. Even if the football team is bad, or doesn't make money -- it can help the school fulfill it's educational role in more ways than one. 1) It brings in a lot of revenue (merchandise, etc) that doesn't go to Athletics. 2) If your team is good it does help you recruit student -- which brings better minds to campus. 3) I think that it helps with school pride, and that translates into something more than just good athletics. When you have good athletics you are better able to highlight what you do well. 4) The athletics programs are the marketing arm of the university -- and all marketing arms have good and bad characteristics. All said, higher education is so much more than just classrooms these days -- it has to be run like a business.

At 7/25/2007 06:22:00 PM,

I am more than happy to let the universities be run more like corporations than like the old school (no pun intended) model of ivory tower thinking-and-learning-comes-first. However, while we are at it, let's yank their tax exempt status, regardless of whether they are state entities. The cold reality of competition and paying taxes will weed out the bad schools - or at least, the bad schools will learn to market better to bad students. There is already marketplace competition with the schools - let's finish the job and let the marketplace really take over. Viva la Invisible Hand! Sheldon

At 7/25/2007 11:06:00 PM,

"Viva la Invisible Hand"

Clever pun from an anonymous commenter, Sheldon.

A professor of mine wrote a very interesting book about the marketing of higher education. If you have aspirations for higher education administration and find yourself looking for something to do this summer, check it out.

Using Sheldon's logic, maybe we should rescind tax exempt status from all churches:

"The cold reality of competition and paying taxes will weed out the bad [churches] - or at least, the bad [churches] will learn to market better to [wicked people]."

This might aid our missionary efforts.

At 7/25/2007 11:36:00 PM,

That is absolutely BRILLIANT. Let's see how many people keep donating to churches when they can't write it off! Only the true believers and ergo only the true church will come out on top! Oh the market rocks!!! Sheldon

At 7/25/2007 11:42:00 PM,

I'm sorry I attributed brilliance to Chris which is in fact due to Doug in the taxable Church comment. I am using a blackberry, which plays tricks on the eyes when scrolling.

At 7/26/2007 07:21:00 PM,


This blog is close enough to your heart that you read it on your BLACKBERRY? Wait, you have a Blackberry?

No wonder you love capitalism.

At 7/26/2007 07:47:00 PM,

Re the playoff system. I think that there should still be all those "meaningless" bowl games as well. If the top 8 teams make the playoffs then the others can still go to the other bowls. I mean is the minake car care bowl really going to mean less than it does now if there is a playoff going on too? It will still serve as a reward for mid-majors that don't quite make the playoffs. I think that the and one system they are talking about might be alright, but a playoff would be more exciting. Plus if there is a playoff then the occasional mid major that has a great season and cracks the top ten or so (Utah in 2005 or Boise last year, etc.) will have a real chance at the championship rather than making the BCS but still not really having a chance at the title.




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