Football Writers Association of America 2001 BEST WRITING CONTEST
COLUMN | ENTERPRISE | FEATURE | GAME | LOOSE DEADLINE

FIRST PLACE: ENTERPRISE
Wisconsin cuts cost for rosier financial line
Erik Brady & Steve Wieberg, USA Today

The University of Wisconsin went to the Rose Bowl two seasons ago and lost $286,700 for its trouble. Last season it went again and came out $239,882 ahead.

What happened from one year to the next? First came criticism from the state legislature. Then came a determination to cut expenses the next time around.

Part I: Bowl games can be costly win or lose
Part II: Bowling for dollars
Part III: Wisconsin cuts costs for rosier financial line

It worked. Wisconsin took 118 fewer people and cut expenses for air travel (by almost $150,000), lodging (by more than $50,000) and apparel (by almost $64,000), among many other cuts.

The school took 832 people the first time and 714 the next (and paid for 123 of them through gift funds instead of bowl proceeds). Most of the cuts came in the athletic department (from 246 to 153) and the "official party" consisting of members of the school's board of regents and athletic board and the like (from 97 to 51). The school actually took a few more players and band members the second time.

"We're proud of the university for taking the audit to heart and making the changes necessary so they wouldn't just be blowing out cash," says state Rep. Marlin Schneider, a Democrat from Wisconsin Rapids who had voiced disapproval of the earlier deficit.

Other schools, he suggests, should follow suit.

Athletic director Pat Richter says the loss the first time "was a conscious decision" to reward people on campus who had contributed to the team's success just as cutting back the next year was a conscious decision to "make some money."

But Richter says the program made money in the final analysis the first time, too, when Wisconsin's revenue share of the Big Ten's take from other bowl games is figured in. Wisconsin got about $1.5 million from the Big Ten share in each of those seasons.

Richter says Wisconsin expects to make money from its Sun Bowl appearance this season. The payout is far less than the Rose Bowl's, but the expenses will be less, too. "We're probably erring on the side of making money," Richter says.

Botany professor Tom Sharkey, chair of the faculty senate, says there was less concern among the faculty about the shortfall at the 1998 Rose Bowl. "Many faculty members understand that football is self-funded," he says. "And it generates a lot of enthusiasm around the state. That's worth a lot of money. Most people here find it hard to get excited about biochemistry like I do. It's much easier for them to get excited about a winning football team."

Richter points out that Wisconsin also found itself in the red at the 1996 Copper Bowl. "Yes, we lost money," he says. "But that investment has paid off immensely down the road."

Going to a bowl pays off in ways that are difficult to measure, such as admissions applications and alumni giving, Richter says. Easier to measure is this: Wisconsin's win at the Rose Bowl last season was its third in six seasons.

Winners and losers
A school's income is affected by how much the bowl pays out, travel and ticket costs. Virginia Tech's bowl net income last season was $2.22 million.

Winners
School (Bowl): Net Income
Virginia Tech (Sugar): $2,223,176
Alabama (Orange): $1,819,194
Tennessee (Fiesta): $629,700
Florida (Citrus): $450,000
Oklahoma (Independence): $302,722

Losers
School (Bowl): Net Income
llinois (Micronpc.com): -$216,515
Washington (Holiday): -$230,352
Oregon State (Oahu): -$302,870
BYU (Motor City): -$476,636
Colorado (Insight.com): -$535,633

Note: With more than a $100,000 subsidy and help with unsold tickets from the Mountain West Conference, BYU reduced its net loss to about $250,000.

Bowl tidbits

Nine schools kept their total expenses beneath $750,000, and eight of them wound up making money on their bowl appearances. The exception: Marshall, which lost $54,362 on its trip to the Motor City Bowl in Pontiac, Mich.

Nebraska ate better and slept more comfortably than any other bowl team last season, or at least the Huskers should have. They outspent everybody else on team meals and lodging ($506,190), more than Boise State's and Marshall's total expenditures in the Humanitarian and Motor City bowls combined.

Texas Christian, foreshadowing this season's efforts to market the university through its resurgent football program and Heisman Trophy candidate LaDainian Tomlinson, spent $58,964 on promotion in advance of the Mobile Alabama Bowl. That accounted for nearly 8% of the Horned Frogs' overall bowl expenses, the biggest emphasis by any team.

Gifts and awards

The NCAA officially "encourages" each bowl to provide a minimum of 95 players with commemorative awards valued at up to $300. Those gifts typically include watches, shirts, jackets, travel bags and commemorative footballs; several bowls last year handed out cellphones and cameras.

Among other freebies: Game Boys (Rose), portable CD players (Holiday), a choice of Nintendo 64 units or VCRs (Cotton).

Typically, too, schools purchase more of the items to hand out to additional players, coaches and others.

Virginia Tech, which outspent every other school on awards ($171,046) in celebrating its berth in the national championship-deciding Sugar Bowl, bought 175 watches, 150 hats, 125 jackets, 125 athletic bags and 125 binders, in addition to 125 of each by the bowl.

Nebraska, another top-10 spender on awards ($90,290), bought an additional 207 watches and 101 letterman jackets at the Fiesta Bowl.

Mississippi bought an additional 355 watches, 135 caps and 120 jackets, duffel bags, T-shirts, shorts and footballs at the Independence Bowl.

How payouts are divided and spent

Southeastern Conference: Sharing the bowl wealth

How one conference, the Southeastern (SEC), will distribute its projected $25.7 million in bowl revenue this season:

Bowls with less than $2 million payout: Participating school keeps first $600,000 plus 20% of the balance ($840,000 from the Peach Bowl, which pays a projected $1.8 million, for example). Remainder is divided into 12 shares, one for the conference and 11 going to the league's other member schools.

Non-Bowl Championship Series bowls that pay $2 million or more: Participating school keeps first $800,000 plus 20% of the balance ($1.44 million from the Citrus Bowl, which pays a projected $4 million, for example). Remainder is divided into 12 shares, one for the conference and 11 going to the league's other member schools.

BCS bowls: Participating school keeps $2.5 million and collects $150 per mile of travel one way. Remainder of projected $12 million payout is divided into 12 shares, one for the conference and 11 going to the league's other member schools. If an SEC team were playing in the BCS' national championship game, it would keep $2.6 million plus the mileage allowance.

Tickets: League will cover the cost of up to 3,000 tickets to which a participating school is committed but cannot sell.

Bottom line: Revenue-distribution shares total roughly $1.1 million to $1.4 million a school.

Source: SEC