The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

December 28, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN - Bowls no money-maker for schools

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck recently told his staff that it figures to lose in the neighborhood of $1 million by playing in the BCS Orange Bowl.

A year ago Connecticut, the Big East BCS representative, lost an estimated $2.4 million by playing in the Fiesta Bowl.

Helluva way to run a railroad, huh?

Like if it’s going to cost you a million dollars or more to play in the game, maybe you ought to say thanks, but no thanks.

You can bet ESPN isn’t losing money off the deal. You can bet the Orange Bowl committee isn’t losing money off the deal. You can bet Dana Holgorsen, who has a bonus clause in the contract he has yet to sign for making the BCS, isn’t losing money off the deal ... and Luck, by the way, also has a bonus clause, so maybe they ought to add those payouts to their “losses” by playing in the Orange Bowl.

Think it might be time to redo the entire bowl system when the champions wind up losing money as their reward for winning?

What, pray tell, does West Virginia get out of an Orange Bowl invite?

“National exposure,” said Mike Parsons, Luck’s right-hand man in the athletic department. “A reward for the players for having a great season.”

A million dollars worth of exposure? Hardly.

And as for the reward for the players ... again, while Holgorsen and Luck and ESPN and the city of Miami and Orange Bowl committee and the guy who owns the house with the lawn on which you park your car for $25 make money ... what are they getting other than a few trinkets and a ring?

Just Monday, Dan Wetzel, Yahoo’s national sports columnist, sent across the nation a story that said it would cost LSU and Alabama close to a million dollars to have their bands at the national championship game on Jan. 9.

A million dollars for the bands?

That’s right, because the schools have to buy the tickets, as well as the transportation and housing, and it’s a pretty pricey ticket at $350. Now consider this: LSU estimates it needs 529 tickets for the band and Alabama 539 ... a tuba player requires three tickets for him and his instrument, for example.

At WVU, the ticket is not as pricey but the band is big and the school has to foot the bill.

Think it doesn’t frost the brass of the WVU athletic department executives, paying that for the band, which performs for five minutes long before the game — not even at halftime since the Orange Bowl puts on its own show?

Well, it does.

Remember, this is a BCS bowl, one that pays out $17 million. If WVU were Notre Dame, it would get to keep the whole $17 million — which might explain why Notre Dame isn’t in a football conference.

With $2 million cut. That’s all, $2 million ... and it has to buy 17,500 tickets at from $75 to $135.

Normally, you’d say a football-crazy school like WVU

could sell 17,500 tickets ... but this isn’t normal.

Consider that you can buy tickets far cheaper online at places like Stubhub.com, and that certainly is where WVU fans are looking.

Then, too, you have the date of Jan. 4.

“The problem isn’t that it’s a Wednesday,” Parsons said, “it’s that it’s Jan. 4.”

That falls outside the holiday time of the New Year. People are just going back to work after New Year’s. Considering the cost and what they spent on the holidays and the fact that football regular season ended a month earlier ... it’s just damned stupid marketing.

This problem will ease some for WVU when it moves to the Big 12, for the conference buys the tickets for its schools in the bowl games, taking the onus off the schools. Then, if you sell half the tickets (half of 17,500, whatever that is) you get to keep the money.

The risk, however, belongs to the conference, but the schools have incentive to sell the tickets because they get to keep half the money if they can sell them.

The bowl situation, however, is really a total calamity. You look at the games that are being played early and the stands are empty. It is nothing but programing for ESPN ... and that explains why the games are spread out and why they have ruined the New Year’s Day tradition of the big bowls being stacked on that day.

Nothing better than a New Year’s Day party to watch the Rose, the Orange, the Sugar and the Cotton Bowl ... but you can’t do it any more because ESPN owns the rights to all of them and they aren’t in the business of making the public happy, only of selling advertising time.

There are too many bowls spread too far apart played for anyone but the school and the players ... and if they don’t change this system soon there is going to be some kind of revolt among fans and, may we add, players who suddenly are beginning to realize that they are always at the bottom of the totem pole that they actually have carved out.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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