The Dirty Secret Behind College Football Bowls

Last Updated Dec 19, 2009 3:28 PM EST

Are college bowl games money losers for college football teams?

Lots of times bowl games are money pits. Many athletic programs lose money because college bowls routinely impose ticket guarantees. Last year, according to an investigation by the San Diego Union-Tribune, college teams and their sports conferences lost $15.5 million because of unsold tickets for the 34 college bowl games.

Richard Southall, the director of College Sports Research Institute at the University of North Carolina, calls the ticket guarantee requirement a "cover charge" for the schools so they can have fun at a bowl party. With these ticket guarantees, it's no wonder that bowls have proliferated since it's the schools that are assuming the big risk.

In 1996, fans only needed enough potato chips and chili to last through 18 bowl games, but today there are, count em, 34 bowls. And folks, more bowl games are planned to join such illustrious events as the Chick-fil-A, Meineke Car Care, Maaco and Little Caesars Pizza bowls.

Here are some of the money losers among last year's bowl games:

Orange Bowl. Virginia Tech and its conference lost $1.77 million because the school only sold 3,342 of its mandatory 17,500 tickets.

Fiesta Bowl. Ohio State sold less than 10,000 tickets leaving it more than 7,500 short. That generated a $1 million loss for the Buckeyes and the Big Ten Conference.

Insight Bowl. The University of Minnesota and the Big Ten Conference only bought 1,512 tickets out of the mandatory 10,500, which led to a $434,340 loss.

Holiday Bowl. Oklahoma and the Big 12 Conference lost $318,490 after it couldn't sell 5,438 of its tickets.

And don't think that it's just universities that are played for suckers. Taxpayers are propping up bowl games too. According to the Wall Street Journal, between 2001 and 2005, seven tax-exempt college bowls pocketed $21.6 million in government aid. Bowl committees pay lobbyists to protect their sketchy tax-exempt status. Sure would be nice if somebody looked into all this.

Lynn O'Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes about college for TheCollegeSolutionBlog.
College football bowl games image by David Reber. CC 2.0.

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