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As Usual, Money the Key

College football: Bowl championship series will last because participants get paid, and very well, to make it work.


Call it unique. Call it archaic.

College football will determine a national champion at the Rose Bowl tonight in a manner unlike any other major-college sport--without the benefit of a playoff.

After years of debate, football still doesn't have a version of basketball's March Madness tournament or baseball's College World Series.

What it has is a loose collection of bowls capped by the bowl championship series, a complex and controversial means of choosing two teams for a title game.

This, you already knew.

But you might not know why this distinctive system will stay in place for the foreseeable future.

Call it profitable.

While fans may grumble, the current arrangement keeps television happy and, as a result, keeps tens of millions of dollars circulating among a select few conferences--six to be exact--that founded the BCS.

And the powers that be can find little reason for change.

"What [is the] incentive?" asks an executive from a major conference. "There is no incentive."

Not when the rich get richer.

By the end of the bowl season tonight, 25 games will have paid out almost $150 million to 50 teams--all but about $10 million of that to schools from the BCS-founding Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pacific 10 and Southeastern conferences.

And when it comes to the BCS games, the Big Six are guaranteed six of the eight spots. This year, they have all eight.

The Rose Bowl, matching undefeated and top-ranked Miami of the Big East vs. once-routed Nebraska of the Big 12, is expected to top the $35 million in revenue it generated last year, said Mitch Dorger, chief executive officer for the Tournament of Roses.

The money comes primarily from television, but also from sponsorships and ticket sales. TV revenue has increased about $1.5 million and tickets, up $25 each from last year, are expected to generate an additional $2.2 million.

Deducted from the Rose Bowl pot is a management fee--about $5 million last year--and other expenses, including beefed-up security. The biggest expense: the $11.75 million paid to each of the teams.

That money actually goes to the respective conferences, which distribute the proceeds according to their own individual formula. For example, Nebraska will receive about $2.3 million off the top to cover its Rose Bowl expenses, with the remaining $9.45 million divided equally among Big 12 teams.

In the eight-team Big East, the top five finishers receive an allotment based on their standing in conference play. The rest of the money is split equally among all teams. Miami will take in more than $4 million in Rose Bowl payout but must pay its own expenses.

Paul Dee, Miami's athletic director, estimated his school will spend about $2.5 million to transport and house some 650 school representatives--players, coaches, the school president and trustees, band members and cheerleaders--to the game. The school also quickly sold its allotment of 21,000 tickets and had to seek out an additional 4,000 tickets.

After expenses, Dee said he expects Miami to escape with about a $900,000 profit. Not a windfall, but not chump change, either. Especially considering the exposure the school will receive from playing in a national championship game on prime time television, with front-of-the-sports-page play in newspapers across the country.

Of course, money isn't the only reason to maintain the current network of bowl games. While lower divisions of college football hold playoffs, a similar arrangement involving the major schools might create a several logistical headaches. Among them:

* A 16-team playoff would involve only 15 games, 10 short of this season's schedule of 25 bowl games. Some bowls might be discontinued, and smaller ones that are saved might fight over where they fit in a playoff structure. Also, bowls would lose their freedom to court a local team, boosting ticket sales.

* The season would have to be longer. Because the bowls are played on just about every day of the week, they can be jammed into a short period of time--from Dec. 18 through today. With a playoff, the season would be extended about two more weeks. Fans would be forced to scramble from week to week on travel arrangements, not knowing for sure where their team is playing--or if it is playing.

* A playoff system would lock games into weekends, forcing as many as eight games into a Saturday, or spill over into direct competition with the NFL for fans and prime television spots.

* Promotional and sponsorship exposure currently tied into the bowl games would have to be renegotiated. And many of those opportunities might dry up altogether because, instead of the traditional weeks-long build up to a bowl game, the hoopla might be limited to a few days.

Of course, fewer promotion and sponsorship windows means, all together now ... less money.

It's a vicious circle.

Or, as Dee, the Miami athletic director, said, "There are so many problems, so many unanswered questions" to a playoff format.

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