Monday, January 12, 2009

When Life Is Just a Bowl of Freebies

No one knows who will win Thursday night's Bowl Championship Series National Championship game between Florida and Oklahoma. But one thing's for sure: Players on both teams will walk away with some pretty nice swag. That's because the bowls now give out gift bags just like the Oscars. It's one of the few times of the year when college athletes are allowed to accept gifts. And this year, Miami, host to the Orange Bowl and the BCS title game, was the place to be. Players in both bowl games were allowed to stroll through the Sony Suite, an exclusive room at their hotel stocked with Sony Electronics products. Each player had a $300 credit limit. Players picked out the items they wanted, including PlayStations and flat-screen TVs, and Sony shipped them wherever they wanted. Participating schools also typically order extra gift bags for big-donor alumni and other VIPs they bring to the games.

It is self-evident that what matters is money.

Gift bags are just one example of how these bowl games, originally designed to promote tourism, have become multimillion-dollar enterprises in their own right. Revenues for the 34 postseason bowl games range from just over $1 million for the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl to more than $30 million for each of the five BCS games. College bowl games are an estimated $400 million-a-year industry, and more than 20 of the bowl games have tax-exempt status.

According to a survey last year by Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal, the Chick-fil-A Bowl is the most profitable. This year marked its 12th-straight sell out, generating a roughly $2 million profit on about $12 million in revenue and $10 million in expenses. Revenue has risen more than 70% over the past decade, a marked improvement from the 1990s when the bowl actually lost money. Bowl executives don't do badly either, with most getting six-figure salaries. Based on 2006 tax returns, the Sugar Bowl's Paul Hoolahan makes more than $450,000 a year, the Outback Bowl's Jim McVay nearly $500,000, and Fiesta and Insight Bowl Director John Junker more than $400,000.

Money for everyone, schools included. But, what is the cost?

And while everyone's fretting over the bailout package for the auto industry, most taxpayers would be shocked to learn that they're also footing the bill for some of these highly profitable bowl games. From 2001 to 2005, seven tax-exempt bowls received $21.6 million in government aid. The Sugar Bowl, which in one four-year period got $4.1 million in funding from the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, pays a consultant more than $10,000 a year to "monitor legislative developments . . . related to the continued financial support of the Sugar Bowl." From 2001 to 2005, 38% of the Brut Sun Bowl's total revenue, or about $9 million, came from receipts from a Texas rental-car tax that are diverted into the bowl's bank account.

Yes, the bowls are tax-exempt. Why? Back scratching; also called corruption. But that is not the only cost.

In short, the college bowl games generate some pretty impressive numbers. But Derrick Jackson, a columnist for the Boston Globe, comes up with his own numbers each year: The bowl teams' graduation rates.

"Florida has a 68 percent graduation rate but a 25-percentage-point racial disparity," he wrote in his Dec. 13, 2008, column. "Oklahoma should flat-out be disqualified with a 46 percent graduation rate."

Less than half graduate.

Mr. Jackson also found that four other schools that played in BCS bowl games – Ohio State, Texas, Alabama and Utah – all have black graduation rates under 50% and an average racial gap of 30 percentage points.

Watching the Oklahoma-Florida, game, I saw that Florida's top receiver is majoring in Sports recreational management. O, yes, indeed.


That is from a course syllabus: LEI 4501: Legal Aspects of Recreation, Parks and Tourism (3 Credits)

The University indeed has a department of Recreational Sports.

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