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The hidden side of bowl games


(MoneyWatch) Every December my husband attends two football bowl games that are held in San Diego. He's never thrilled about going to these games, and as far as I can tell neither are the friends of his who also attend.

So why go? It's because one of his friends is a mover and shaker who is expected, as a gesture of civic duty, to buy a bunch of tickets to each of the bowl games. As you'll learn momentarily, it's not only local leaders who buy tickets they don't need.

Who benefits from bowl dollars

With the football bowl season just ended, it's appropriate to wonder just who benefits from the 35 yearly bowl games. What is certain is that the top folks running many of these bowl operations are paid stunning amounts of money to stage these one-day events.

At the start of the bowl season, USA Today ran a disturbing article that documented just how handsomely many of these bowl CEOs get paid. According to the newspaper's investigation, the average bowl CEO makes $438,000 in annual compensation. That figure has doubled in 10 years.

Here are some other depressing facts that the newspaper uncovered:

- The median compensation for the 15 CEOs overseeing non-profit bowl organizations, which are at least 10 years old, was about three times what chief executives of mid-to-large charities make

- Compensation for bowl chiefs rose 32 percent from 2006 to 2010, exceeding the rate of pay increase for corporate executives, who have been getting flak for years about their rich pay packages

- Jim McVay, CEO of the Outback Bowl, earned the highest compensation among the nonprofit bowls at a whopping $753,946, and Paul Hoolahan at the Sugar Bowl came in second at $634,586

Who gets stuck with the tab

Universities ultimately pay a price for participating in these largely meaningless football games.  Part of the deal for universities that get tapped for bowl games is that they are required to purchase huge blocks of tickets. And it's tough luck if their fans don't snap them up.

According to NCAA documents, for the 2010-2011 season the 70 participating football bowl teams exceeded their expense allowances by an average of more than $169,000, mostly due to unsold ticket costs.

In last year's Outback Bowl, according to the newspaper, Michigan State and the Big Ten conference only resold 4,736 of their 12,000 tickets, which left them with a loss of $528,000. Michigan State got off easy compared to the University of Connecticut, which lost $1.7 million on its trip to the Fiesta Bowl.

Can you imagine how much better off these schools would be if they would spend this money actually educating students?