SI: Michigan made a profit by not going to bowls in 2008, 2009

Submitted by NateVolk on November 16th, 2010 at 5:10 PM

SI Article by Dan Wetzel and Austin Murphy talking about the economics of the BCS system quoting former AD Bill Martin on page 4.  Basically says that athletic departments and schools are big losers in the bowls and a playoff system is the post-season solution to the economic blood letting.   Check out Ohio State's profit from last years $18 million payout at the Rose Bowl.  

The thing that shocked me was the way the current system works.  The schools build in a loss to show up and play, while the bowls, cloaked as non-profit, make out like bandits. If you are pro-playoff, this article throws down some really good talking points.

***Side note: Mgo was talking about this issue referencing Wetzel two years ago. During my dark ages period:



November 17th, 2010 at 8:48 AM ^

is that if you take the conference champions, and the conference championships are based on conference records, then non-conference games don't matter, and a big non-conference win could help in the quest for a wild card spot -- at any rate, losing out of conference doesn't end your championship hopes, since you can still make the playoff by winning your conference.

Not to say I think an 11+5 playoff is practical, but that's a different issue.

The Baughz

November 16th, 2010 at 10:26 PM ^

I was just about to post this same exact atricle.I just finished it an hr ago. It is a great read. And yes it will piss you off. It really did a good job of telling exactly what "the cartel" does behind close doors. I recomend anybody who is interested in the politics aspect of the BCS and why there is no playoff in place.


November 16th, 2010 at 6:35 PM ^

The book actually touches on the "selling point" theory for recruits. They used Florida Atlantic as an example in 2008. FAU played at Michigan St that year. MSU's return trip had to be cancelled because FAU lost so much money on their bowl trip that they had to delay construction on their new stadium. MSU didn't have to pay them either, because the contract called for the stadium to be done. And the kicker was FAU finished with around the 120th ranked recruiting class.


November 16th, 2010 at 7:41 PM ^

So expenses from traveling to a bowl cause schools to lose money.

Um, how exactly would a playoff solve this?  Especially if neutral-site games and "incorporating the bowls" happen, like some people think is feasible?  When you have to travel more than once to keep playing in a playoff, wouldn't that make it worse, not better?

KC Wolve

November 16th, 2010 at 8:06 PM ^

They lay out a 16 team playoff plan in the book. I love how they incorporate playing the first couple of rounds on campus with home field advantage. Can you imagine a semifinal playoff game atmosphere at the big house???
<br>Also, travel costs would be irrelevant with the additional money schools would get with a playoff. Delaney supposedly even admitted a playoff would generate around 4 times as much revenue as the current system. The issue is that the "cartel" as Wetzel calls them wouldn't be controlling and keeping it anymore.
<br>It is a pretty good read and you get through it pretty fast. I can see a couple of counterpoints to his arguments, but for the most part he destroys most of the "myths" will well researched arguments.
<br>Fun fact, BCS commish Bill Hancock lives in my neighborhood.
<br>Ok, maybe not so much of a fun fact.


November 16th, 2010 at 10:00 PM ^

EDIT: Long post below.  Cliffnotes version: my general opinion of it is that Wetzel simply took the path of least resistance.  He proposed the bracket with the least amount of thought necessary, and then shaped his arguments for it around the plan instead of considering the realities and then shaping something to fit.  This is the thought process behind just about every half-assed gumdrop rainbow plan that every fan and their aunt seems to have.

1) He ignores the NCAA bylaw requiring a tournament to be made up of at least half at-large teams.  People always say "well you could just change the bylaw" but that requires a large majority and with NCAA inertia the way it is, that's much easier said than done.  You know the "BCS conferences" would be pushing hard to keep the bylaw because it means more paths to the playoffs for them.  And without their assent, it'll never happen.  People ignore this stuff all the time and then claim it'd be so easy to change the bylaw when you present them with that tiny obstacle.  When you're given a square peg and a round hole, you don't change the hole, you look for a different peg.

2) "Ignore the bowls" despite the "powerful lobby" he asserts them to have is legal suicide.  The bowls' affiliation with the NCAA is, after all, a contract.  Contracts are based on certain expectations.  Any lawyer would have no problem arguing the NCAA was in breach of contract if it simply - boom - switched to a playoff.  There would either be years of wrangling in the courts or years of waiting for the contracts to run out.  Not just the contracts between the bowls and the NCAA but the ones the bowls enter into with sponsors and everyone else based on the expectation of continued affiliation.  Wetzel's a moron if he thinks these people - whom he presents as uber-powerful money leeches - will just go "damn that sucks" if the NCAA goes all playoff on them.  It has to be done gradually and in a way that the NCAA can be lawsuit-proof.  Much the same way the NCAA dealt with the NIT: buying it out for extravagant sums of money.

3) His justifications are for the most part witless.  For example, he claims it would give meaning to the MAC championship game, because now a playoff berth is at stake.  Oh, because the Atlantic Sun basketball championship game gets such astronomical ratings.

4) He makes the dubious simultaneous claims that the regular season would continue to matter because higher-seeded teams would get homefield advantage (fine) and the Cinderella element would be added - that is, we'd all tune in to watch because there might be upsets.  OK, if upsets are that likely, then homefield advantage isn't so hot, is it?

5) Personal opinion: Wetzel's presentation is as smug and condescending as it's humanly possible to be.

KC Wolve

November 16th, 2010 at 10:19 PM ^

It is "pie in the sky" I guess, but a doable plan IMO. There are always going to be reasons not to do it and you lay out valid ones, but that doesn't mean no one should try to come up with a better system. He does somewhat present his plan as something that could happen soon, and you are right that it would take years for it to be implemented.
<br>His proposed playoff is a small part of the book. Most of the book is attacking the current system, which I liked.


November 17th, 2010 at 12:26 AM ^

It would be impossible for any system to be more smug and condescending than the current one is.  The Bowl execs are pompous, arrogant, and really should subjugate their egos in the name of a fair system that determines a real champion on the field.  There is about as much chance of that happening as there is of Justin Boren climbing Mt Everest.


November 17th, 2010 at 8:01 AM ^

First off, thanks to the poster for correcting the title of the book--I've gotten so used to the idea of "Kill the BCS" that I think it's the name of Wentzel's book.

1.  Two thoughts on this.  If there was the political will withing the NCAA to change the rule, then it would be changed.  That would be especially true if outside pressure was exerted by the U.S. government concerning the tax exempt status of the bowls or athletic departments.  The Congress has already looked into the BCS a couple of times--can you imagine what the lawmakers in Texas and Idaho will be saying if TCU or Boise State are excluded two years in a row?

The second point of this is that if the bylaw can't be changed, then you restructure the playoff format.  If at least eight teams have to be at large for a 16-team playoff, then make the Big Ten, Big XII, ACC, SEC, Big East, Mountain West and Pac 12 conference champions auto qualifiers and seed the other nine teams.  That's a simple fix right there.

2.  I believe the bowl contracts are between those entites and the conferences---not the NCAA.  Keep in mind that FBS conferences operate outside the NCAA when it comes to bowls and post-season play. 

If the conferences wanted to do this, they could set up an a playoff system down the line as the bowl contracts all expire--this is not a difficult proposition.  But as Wentzel points out, the entities who run the bowls make money on the deal and he states that the playoff system would subsidize the bowl system.  This allows teams that had good seasons, but don't make the playoffs to have a post-season experience.

For example, if a playoff sytem was in place right now using Wentzel's system and the BCS ratings to seed the teams, then Michigan State wouldn't get into the playoff due to their #12 rating.  MSU would instead be headed to play in the Rose Bowl against Arizona (assuming Oregon and Stanford were in the playoff).  Other teams that would be in tha major bowls right now would include South Caroliina, Missouri, Arkansas and Iowa--not a bad line up of teams that would normally go to the Outback or Cotton Bowls, for example.

3.  I actually think he makes a lot of sense by saying that conference championships would matter.  For example, I list South Carolina above as a team that wouldn't get into the playoff with its current record.  But as winner of the SEC East, it would have a chance to get into the playoffs if it won the SEC conference championship game.  If your program was on the cusp of being in a playoff and a win by the USC Gamecocks was the difference between your school getting into the playoff or not, then you'd pay attention.

Wentzel makes a good point that college football is a truly national game and that a playoff systems would mesh it even tighter than now.  Because the playoff possibilities would touch even more schools in October and November than the BCS does right now, it would actually heighten overall interest in college football.

4.  One of the reasons it would be called it an upset is because the higher ranked team would be playing at home--think Michigan opening season game in 2007 against Appalachian State.  Not to be insulting, but that's actually kind of obvious.  Seeing an underdog beat a major program is part of the story behind the NCAA men's basketball tournament, so there's also something to be said about that aspect of any playoff system.

I would agree with you that I wouldn't have a lot of interest in watching the #1 seed play against the Sun Belt champion in the playoff system that Wentzel put forth--unless the ticker showing the scores while I watch another game is showing me that it's actually pretty close.  If possible, I'd modify what he lays out in his playoff sytems because its really a de facto 12- or 13-game playoff because the conference champions from the minor conferences really aren't likely to be too competitive in that setting.

Setting aside the bylaw in your first point for a moment, I'd like to see the conference champions from nine-best rated conferences get into the playoff with seven at large bids in place.  That would really incentivize teams looking to get the #1 or #2 seed because their opening games would likely be against the winners of the MAC or Conference USA as I suspect the new WAC and the Sun Belt wouldn't be in this type of playoff setup in more cases than not.

5.  Wentzel's book is written like there should be exclamation points after every fourth sentence, but I think the larger substance of what he's saying is spot on.  If you were to suggest, for example, that the two teams in the Super Bowl would be selected by a NFL committee after regular season play and without the benefit of a playoff, people would think you're crazy.  Try applying the system that FBS college football has to MLB or the NBA or the NHL and you'd get the same sort of reaction.

I  would imagine that the majority of college football fans out there right now would love to see a college football playoff--and that would include one former Michigan head football coach.

I attended a fantasy football event at Michigan about five years ago--it was a charity fund raiser for prostate cancer research at U-M Hospital.  During a Q&A session, Lloyd Carr was asked about what he thought about a college football playoff.  Carr said he would support a 16-team playoff with some of the games being played on the home field of the higher seed.  He talked about the 1999 Michigan team that beat Alabama in the Orange Bowl and said that it was completly overlooked in the press, etc. by the way the BCS is promoted.  Carr also felt that Michigan playing in Ann Arbor in December would give U-M a tremendous advantage when playing a warm weather SEC, Pac 10 or ACC team, for example, in a playoff format. 


November 17th, 2010 at 11:20 AM ^

Counters to your counterpoints:

1. If you eliminate auto-qualifiers for the weak and crappy conferences, you undermine half of Wetzel's argument in the first place.  (Not that I think that's a bad idea, but still.)  Wetzel claims his idea would preserve the sanctity of the regular season by rewarding the top finishers with a home game against a terrible opponent and it would make things like the MAC championship game relevant.  Well, removing the MAC and Sun Belt, etc., from the playoff would submarine everything Wetzel's trying to accomplish there.  I do think a desirable playoff is unfeasible with 11 autobids, but under that idea, what's the reward for being the top team of the regular season?  A home game with Wisconsin instead of Oregon?  (Speaking last season here.)  Might as well lose a game or two because it doesn't matter any more.

2. The NCAA certifies the bowls.  There's your contract.  And the value of bowls would dry up almost entirely with a playoff.  That's where all the money would get sucked into.  Who sponsors or watches the NIT?  The Rose Bowl would just be a glorified NIT - and after a few years, it wouldn't even be glorified.

3. C''re telling me that South Carolina fans aren't paying extremely close attention to the SEC championship game?  There's nothing a playoff could do to increase a team's fans' interest in going to a CCG.  Wetzel acts like the nation would suddenly pay super-close attention to the MACCG because it would have some bearing on the playoff.  No it wouldn't.  Not any more than the Atlantic Sun tournament has on March Madness.  Nobody would care which patsy is offered up to Auburn any more than they care which patsy is going to the Motor City Bowl.  And take the Big 12 CG.  Both teams would go to the playoffs, so what would it matter other than bragging rights?  The fans who lost would simply say, "well, that's too bad, but the real deal is up next."  That'd be the tragedy of a playoff.

Lastly, and the biggy:

I would imagine that the majority of college football fans out there right now would love to see a college football playoff--and that would include one former Michigan head football coach.

Carr said he would support a 16-team playoff with some of the games being played on the home field of the higher seed.

But would Carr support a playoff that turns out radically different from what he proposes?  I do agree that the majority of college football fans want a playoff.  But if you sat them down and actually had them argue it out about how it should work, I think you'll find that those who say "I'm happy with any playoff" are in the clear minority.  Everyone has their own very special idea of how it should be structured and would be totally in favor of a playoff if that were the idea that was implemented.  (Including me, except for the "totally" part.  Only mostly.)  What if the playoff looked very different from what they wanted?  Buyer's remorse galore, that's what I think.  You hear a lot of "well I could support a playoff if it were only 4/6/8 teams."  What if it were 24?  Hmmm, well, that's not so nice-sounding any more.  Because there are so many totally divergent ideas, it only stands to reason that a lot of people would be disappointed when the final product didn't look like their special gumdrop rainbowland idea.


November 16th, 2010 at 8:45 PM ^

This seems to make sense, look at the tradition.  Did i buy less tickets or Michigan junk because they had a couple losing seasons.... no, was i disappointed... sure.   As long as the ship can be fully 'righted' all will be will.  Considering what they make from season tickets, the BTN, and merchandising, i would find it hard to believe that, the juggernaut that is Michigan football would lose money.


November 17th, 2010 at 9:10 AM ^

Did you buy a conference championship t-shirt? A bowl game cap? A "we beat bowl opponent" sweatshirt? Any of that stuff the last couple of years? No? Then you bought less stuff. That's where bad seasons cost teams money. People buy a lot more Rose Bowl stuff for Christmas than they do Insight Bowl stuff, which is still more than people will buy "staying home for the holidays, year 2" paraphernalia, so yeah, it costs them a lot in merchandising.

st barth

November 17th, 2010 at 8:51 AM ^

The very idea of a playoff at the FBS level of college is kind of a dumb one because it's too idealistic.  To wipe the slate clean and set up a fair playoff system to crown a national champion would require a top-down, dictatorial approach to the current landscape of college football that would be borderline communist and not very American.  No wonder the NCAA simply punts on the issue by making top level college football the only sport that it doesn't award a championship.

However, that doesn't mean we can't get there in a more ruthless, free market capitalist fashion.  Where competition and greed are allowed to rein freely the driving force is one of consolidation of power.  Is it any wonder that the United States only has two political parties?  Likewise, will it really be any surprise when in the not too distant future Jim Delaney of the Big Ten and Larry Scott of the Pac Ten will have used expansion, their tv networks, and their traditional Rose Bowl alliance to throttle the rest of the conference competition in the country?  

Don't be surprised if in another 10 years the Big Ten and Pac Ten jointly stretch coast-to-coast with about 32 teams (4 divisions total) meeting in Big Ten & Pac Ten championship games as a play-in to the Rose Bowl, i.e., the default "national championship" game.  Add just a couple of the traditional powers (e.g., Notre Dame, Texas) to the Big Pac and it will have a near enough monopoly on the historical powers of college football that nobody will be able to touch it.  Consolidation of power indeed.

Elno Lewis

November 17th, 2010 at 9:48 AM ^

wouldn't OSU also have a share from all the other Big Ten teams who went to bowls?


and that would prolly be more than the 80k they lost--right?


so, potato salad.

Elno Lewis

November 17th, 2010 at 10:06 AM ^

Even though the Buckeyes spent about $500,000 less in the 2009-10 school year, the Buckeyes are still the nation's biggest spenders. Ohio State had expenses of $31.76 million last year, according to figures FanHouse obtained from the U.S. Department of Education's Equity in Athletics.

The 2009-10 school year is the most recent data that is available.

While Ohio State put the most money in its program for a second consecutive year, Alabama moved up to No. 2. The Crimson Tide spent nearly $5 million more than the 2008-09 school year, reporting expenses of $31.11 million.

NCAA rag


November 17th, 2010 at 12:00 PM ^

The analysis they did was shortsighted in it only looked at the immediate costs of the bowl game, neglecting the increased exposure for the school and for the program, whcih tends to translate to donations, tickets, merchandise, etc.


November 17th, 2010 at 12:47 PM ^

you're kidding about the kittens. Especially after I gave up masturbating on that account.

What about the claim that 109 out of 120 programs lose money, etc.? I remember seeing this same general argument in a lead story by Brian early this off-season. The obligatory seat purchases and so-on sound like a system out of control.


November 17th, 2010 at 2:42 PM ^

The claim is about of the 120 athletic departments.  Without a doubt that many football programs don't lose money since football pays for most other non-revenue sports.

Also, in the case of Michigan, the athletic department making money the last two years... what other effects are there?  Bowls are but a small part of the puzzle (regular season tickets, merchandise, TV revenues, donations), it's flawed to immediately connect two things that are mutually exclusive.


November 17th, 2010 at 12:55 PM ^

I've seen the argument constructed that schools giving ADs $30,000 bonuses to get to a bowl are causing ADs to stand behind a system that is costing the schools, state taxpayers and students millions of dollars subsidizing corrupt bowl management. U presidents are payed well to think about the school's economic welfare; if this is really the case, wouldn't the U presidents wise up and strip the $30,000 bonuses and bank the millions that would immediately start flowing in? Am I reading this wrong, or is a screwed-up status quo really this impossible to correct?