Going Bowling for the Holidays (and for $$)

The president-elect has elevated talk of a college football playoff, but for now -- and for the foreseeable future -- this season is about bowl games, with millions of dollars for participating colleges.
December 23, 2008

This year, as always, the college football bowl games are unfolding in a context in which they are extolled by many fans (and by the colleges whose teams are participating) but jeered by many others as an unsatisfying alternative to a would-be playoff system for big-time football.

The idea of a Division I-A playoff got an unexpected push this year from the nation's new No. 1 fan -- President-elect Barack Obama, who, seemingly not content with trying to end two wars and fix the worst economic crisis in a half-century, has on numerous occasions called for scrapping the current Bowl Championship Series setup for deciding the college national champion and replacing it with a playoff.

Like many such calls, from lower-profile advocates (sorry, President Adams), Obama's proposal for an eight-team playoff received a reception even chillier than his health care plan is likely to get from conservative Republicans. Opponents of a playoff, including many college presidents, have traditionally fought it on the grounds that it would intrude excessively into players' academic schedules, requiring significant additional travel during what is exam time for many universities.

But that critique doesn't really add up when one considers that presidents and others seem perfectly willing to accept basketball and baseball seasons that are significantly longer, involve many more games and more travel -- in the case of basketball, spanning both academic semesters.

The strongest opposition to the idea of a playoff actually comes from those worried about the shift in power that would result from the creation of a new structure. The Bowl Championship Series is run by the major football-playing conferences, and the vast majority of money from the major bowl games flows into the coffers of those leagues and their members. A Division I-A national championship, if one were to emerge, would most likely be run by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and chances are good that the association would -- as it does for the NCAA's Division men's basketball tournament, its most valuable property -- find some way to share the revenues from a football playoff more widely among its members.

(There are other reasons cited for opposing a playoff, including concerns about diminishing the meaningfulness of the regular season and hurting the current bowl games that allow dozens of colleges to end their seasons as winners, but money, as in most things, is at the core.)

To give a sense of the money at stake, the chart below lays out the participants and the financial payouts for this year's crop of bowl games. The team payouts are, in most cases, shared with a participant's league peers.

Five of the games -- the Eagle Bank, New Orleans, St. Petersburg, New Mexico and Las Vegas Bowls -- have already been played.

The 2008 Bowl Games, the Participants and the Payouts

Bowl Date Location Participating Universities Estimated payout per team
Poinsettia Bowl December 23 San Diego Boise State v. Texas Christian $750,000
Hawaii Bowl December 24 Honolulu Hawaii v. Notre Dame $750,000
Motor City Bowl December 26 Detroit Florida Atlantic v. Central Michigan $750,000
Meineke Car Care Bowl December 27 Charlotte North Carolina v. West Virginia $1 million
Champs Sports Bowl December 27 Orlando Florida State v. Wisconsin $2.125 million
Emerald Bowl December 27 San Francisco U. of California v. U. of Miami $750,000
Independence Bowl December 28 Shreveport, La. Louisiana Tech v. Northern Illinois $1.1 million
PapaJohns.com Bowl December 29 Birmingham, Ala. Rutgers v. North Carolina State $300,000
Alamo Bowl December 29 San Antonio Northwestern v. Missouri $2.25 million
Holiday Bowl December 30 San Diego Oklahoma State v. Oregon $2.3 million
Humanitarian Bowl December 30 Boise Nevada v. Maryland $750,000
Texas Bowl December 30 Houston Rice v. Western Michigan $750,000
Armed Forces Bowl December 31 Fort Worth, Tex. Houston v. Air Force $750,000
Sun Bowl December 31 El Paso, Tex. Oregon State v. Pittsburgh $1.9 million
Music City Bowl December 31 Nashville Vanderbilt v. Boston College $1.7 million
Insight Bowl December 31 Tempe, Ariz. Kansas v. Minnesota $1.2 million
Chic-Fil-A Bowl December 31 Atlanta Louisiana State v. Georgia Tech $3.005 million
Outback Bowl January 1 Tampa, Fla. Iowa v. South Carolina $3.2 million
Gator Bowl January 1 Jacksonville, Fla. Nebraska v. Clemson $2.5 million
Orange Bowl January 1 Miami Cincinnati v. Virginia Tech $17.5 million
Capital One Bowl January 1 Orlando Georgia v. Michigan State $4.25 million
Rose Bowl January 1 Pasadena, Calif. Southern California v. Penn State $17.5 million
Cotton Bowl January 2 Dallas Texas Tech v. Mississippi $3 million
Liberty Bowl January 2 Memphis Kentucky v. East Carolina $1.8 million
Sugar Bowl January 2 New Orleans Utah v. Alabama $17.5 million
International Bowl January 3 Toronto Connecticut v. Buffalo $750,000
Fiesta Bowl January 5 Glendale, Ariz. Texas v. Ohio State $17 million
GMAC Bowl January 6 Mobile, Ala. Tulsa v. Ball State $750,000
BCS Championship January 8 Miami Florida v. Oklahoma $17.5 million


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