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Two Bowls, Four Bowls, Six Bowls, Some Dollars . . .

December 29, 1985|EARL GUSTKEY | Times Staff Writer

News item: Jan. 1, 2000--The NCAA announced today that there are enough sanctioned college football bowl games to permit every college football team to appear in a bowl game after the 2001 season.

Actually, it only seems like the growth of bowl games is getting out of hand. Just because Finland has its very own bowl game doesn't mean we've reached true saturation. In case you missed it, Alma College of Michigan, a Division III school, beat the "Northern Lights" club team at Oulu, Finland, 72-0, last June, in the first Arctic Bowl.

Back home, we find 18 major college bowl games on the 1985 year-end schedule. Ten years ago this month, there were 11. For the biggies, the New Year Year's Day games, business is fine, thank you. Fine? We're talking trainloads of money. Each participating school in the Rose Bowl, for example, is guaranteed $5.8 million this year, money that is shared by every university in both the Pac-10 and Big Ten conferences.

The Rose Bowl payout is more than twice that of any other bowl game. Runners-up are the Orange and Sugar bowls, at $2.25 million per school.

No wonder, then, that Pac-10 and Big Ten football people covet their exclusivity arrangement with the Tournament of Roses Committee. UCLA Athletic Director Peter Dalis, for example, was astonished recently at a reporter's wondering out loud about how much more attractive the Rose Bowl would be if only the No. 1 and No. 2-ranked teams were invited.

"Why would anyone want to do that?" Dalis said. "Why would you want to tamper with a golden goose?"

USC Athletic Director Mike McGee says the Trojans' share of the conference's Rose Bowl shares each year accounts for roughly 5% of USC's athletic department budget.

Most schools, however, either break even or even lose at bowling for dollars. Washington Athletic Director Mike Lude, whose Huskies play Colorado on Monday in Anaheim's Freedom Bowl, puts the income his school will receive from the Freedom Bowl in perspective:

"We'll hope to break even," he said. "Let me put it this way: Our Freedom Bowl money will pay for all our tennis balls and golf balls next year."

The total payout for all 18 major bowl games this month and on New Year's Day comes to just under $22 million. No wonder, then, that 63 years after they first called that game in Pasadena the Rose Bowl game, folks are still trying to climb aboard what appears, on the surface at least, to be a gravy train.

Next year, two more bowl games may be added to the roster, when the NCAA is expected to sanction games for Tampa and Indianapolis. In addition, the NCAA says it keeps hearing from a group that wants to stage a bowl game in the Coliseum with a "black colleges championship game" format.

The Times talked to several athletic directors recently and asked them to comment on subjects relating to college bowl games. Namely, why there is never a shortage of schools who wish to participate in bowl games; why it is considered so important to participate in bowl games, and generally if they see any trends in the areas of football bowl games and the mother's milk of college sports, money.

Some responses:

Said Lude, who is also chairman of the NCAA's postseason football committee: "I believe we're about to enter a period of a stable number of bowl games. In an average year, two to three groups appear before the NCAA postseason football committee with proposals for new bowl games. A couple of years ago, it was six.

"But a major college bowl game is an expensive proposition to get off the ground. And they're so many now, it's hard to find TV time for new ones.

"A lot of people think the growth of cable television will create a bunch of new bowl games, but I don't see it. Maybe it's too early to say now, but look at all the pro clubs who thought they were going to be making big money in cable TV (by the mid-1980s). It just hasn't happened. Cable TV people keep coming to see me about putting the Huskies on cable TV throughout Washington. Why would I do that and jeopardize the best network radio contract ($1.4 million per year) in college football? Or jeopardize the sale of 52,000 season tickets, for that matter. The dollars everyone keeps talking about in cable TV just aren't that significant yet.

"Why is it important for a football program to participate in a bowl? Because it's important to recruits. Our coaches tell me one of the significant things in the minds of young high school football prospects--and their parents--is the opportunity to play in a program that goes to bowl games. It's very important to them.

"That's why we're going to the Freedom Bowl. We'd go even if it cost us a little money--oh, sure. It's a good investment. I can show you how a bowl appearance--any bowl--helps maintain season-ticket sales and funding. And don't forget, football pays most of the bills. Washington football is responsible for 85% of the total income in our athletic department, and we run a $10-million department."

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