College bowl system loots universities

U of M and others spend millions while insiders profit

Sports economist Andrew Zimbalist likens it to Major League Baseball allowing the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies to decide who makes the playoffs—and guarantee themselves the biggest paydays. So he and 21 other economists filed a complaint last spring urging the Justice Department to investigate the BCS for anti-trust violations.

Despite having access to the country's best mathematicians, many argue, the BCS can't even get its computer rankings right. Famed sports statistician Bill James has said they're based on "nonsense math." Hal Stern, a professor at the University of California-Irvine, has even called for a BCS boycott in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis.

Then there are the university presidents. Faced with continuous funding cuts, at some point they're bound to go looking for new revenue.

Since March Madness generates more than $600 million a year, schools might belatedly realize that a playoff for football, the more popular sport, is sure to bring a torrent of cash. Fortunately, even those short on courage tend to find it when free money's in sight.

Hancock seems to know the end is near, though he won't say it outright. The BCS contract expires in 2014, and Hancock acknowledges that dozens of new proposals are floating around college football.

History says the insiders will try to change as little as possible. They've offered minor concessions every few years since the dawning of the BCS, just enough to keep attorneys general and nosy congressmen at bay. But the bowls' duplicity is so obvious they can't hold on much longer.

"I want what's best for the students," Hancock says. If he's being honest with himself, he can't help but push reform. After all, he has to know that at the bottom of this insiders' pyramid are those who can afford it least: the kids paying tuition.

"What's really egregious is they shift that burden to their students," says Morgan.

And that's the unholiest part of it all.

—With reporting from Tim Elfrink

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Defenders of this corrupt system seem to be misreading the article. The author makes it clear that the schools break even. The point is that they only break even on the highest-revenue game of the year, one that they could easily put on themselves. Instead most of that money goes into the pockets of bowl and athletic dept officials. Why?

Jeff Swenson
Jeff Swenson

How does this article change after the author is informed that Minnesota is not responsible for bowl game tickets that are not sold. The Big Ten Conference pays for all unsold tickets for all teams that reach a bowl game.

East Coast Doug
East Coast Doug

Sports - the new opium of the masses. Truely a waste of time.


What a worthless story; it implies that that the U of M lost money by going the Insight Bowl.

The Big Ten payout and expenses for these bowl are all essentially predetermined within reason, and the University would have a hard time losing if they went or not.

The article is total BS and lazy journalism.


Your reasoning has some merit. However, I do want to point out that the University of Alabama has received 17,000 tkts for their game ( I wanted 2 ). I am unable to secure tickets for their game and those on stubhub currently have an asking price of approx $1400 per tkt. They could probably sell out the LA Superdome with just Alabama fans if given the opportunity. Your story may apply to many teams, but I believe you would be surprised how many teams have tens of thousands of loyal fans that attend every game.

Jeff Swenson
Jeff Swenson

Then how are Universities being "looted" and the U of M and others "spend millions"?


You're missing the point. Like Wetzel said, even if the schools are being reimbursed for the losses by their respective conferences, said conferences are STILL BEING FLEECED. Millions of dollars are STILL BEING GIVEN to these bowls for absolutely NO REASON. It's a huge, huge scam.

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