Friday, December 18, 2009

Winners and Losers in College Bowl Games 

It's well-known that in terms of accounting entries, many college athletic departments lose money. Some economists have questioned whether the expense and revenue entries are an accurate measure of the costs and benefits associated with athletic departments. One reason given is that athletics may benefit other parts of the school. Even if the athletic departments bleed money, other areas of the school may benefit.

A second argument given is that the revenue and expense entries are convoluted by the accounting conventions used by colleges. If athletic souvenir revenue is entered in the general university revenue account, then the athletic revenue accounts understate the "true" level of revenue. Similarly, it's not at all clear that the true cost of an athletic scholarship is as high as the posted tuition and room and board rate. If not, then athletic expenses as entered overstate "true" expenses.

In any case, the San Diego Union-Tribune has recently posted a couple of interesting stories about who benefits and who doesn't benefit from college bowl games. The answers may (or may not) surprise you. Here is one story. Here is the other story.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Frustrated With the Big XII Bowl Selection Process? 

"Frustrated." "Slighted." "Snubbed." Those awords describe the feelings many Missouri fans, adminstrators, players, and coaches have towards Mizzou's selection to play Navy in the 2008 Texas Bowl. The Texas bowl gets the last pick among the bowls affiliated with the Big XII conference and a 6-6 Iowa State program, a program that 8-4 Missouri beat, got picked ahead of Mizzou to go to the Insight Bowl.

Moreover, Mizzou finished with a better record than Oklahoma (7-5) and the bipolar Texas A&M Aggies (6-6) but got picked after them. No doubt the relative strength of the South division over the North division was a determinant of OU's and aTm's being selected ahead of an 8-4 North division team.

It's the third year in a row that Mizzou interests felt jobbed by the bowl selection process. Despite finishing in first place in the 2007 North division, having carried a number one ranking for one week at the end of the season, and having beaten Kansas head to head, Kansas got the BCS at-large berth. Yes, Mizzou had one more loss but it also played one more game, that being the the honor of getting whupped by Big XII champion Oklahoma (Mizzou lost twice to Stoops' boys that year - they also lost to OU in the regular season).

Snubbed by the Orange Bowl, Missouri went on to destroy Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl where 35,000 Mizzou fans partied hard in the cold sun in the Metroplex.

In 2008, Mizzouri once again won the north, got pummeled by OU in the Big XII championship crushing Nebraska handily in Lincoln 52-17 earlier that season.

These are not the first instances of a Big XII team getting bumped down a notch in the selection process. In 1998, Kansas State came into the Big XII championship game ranked second in the AP poll. The Wildcats were loaded on both sides of the ball and were headed to the BCS championship game with a win over Texas A&M. It didn't work out that way as KSU lost a two-overtime shocker to the tenth-ranked Aggies.

But instead of an at-large berth in the BCS, the 3rd ranked 'Cats fell all the way to the Alamo Bowl where they lost to unranked but Drew Brees-led Purdue Boilermakers 37-34. Watching that game, it was pretty clear to this observer that Kansas State, with one of the best and most well-rounded teams in college football, was playing as if it didn't want to be there.

What's got Mizzou fans in particular and North Division fans outside of Nebraska concerned is the conference's bowl selection process, a process that probably won't be changed anytime soon. The Big XII has outsourced its selection process to the bowls themselves and other than the BCS invitations, the bowls can pick whatever team they want to pick as long as that team is bowl-eligible. Four of the bowls are in Texas, which works out rather well for the Texas and Oklahoma schools in the conference. Add to that the well-traveling Nebraska fans who are coveted by every bowl and you have 7 of the 12 schools that are happy with the current selection process.

Perhaps we could call it the NebOkieTex conference? But I digress.

For this year's selections, Mizzou's situation is like being the last kid picked on the playground. The bowl's payout is nearly half of the next-lowest paying bowl ($612,500 compared to the $1.1 million payed by the Independence Bowl (source)). The Texas Bowl's estimated expense allowance is $500,000 less than the Insight's (source). The Mizzou administrators have a reason to be frustrated for cash flow reasons.

But I'm not so sure that Mizzou fans, players, and coaches should feel slighted, snubbed, frustrated, etc.. Both the Insight and Texas bowls are New Year's Eve bowls. There are more Mizzou alumni in Texas than in Arizona. Moreover, the game is more accessible on television since the Texas Bowl is broadcast on ubiquitous ESPN where the Insight Bowl is broadcast on the not-so-ubiquitous NFL Network. In addition, Mizzou recruits Texas heavily

I know the bowl system has suffered a sort of grade inflation with so many games being played and where mediocrity is awarded over merit. We'll probably never know about the "intense lobbying efforts" that go on behind closed doors for these bowl slots and I realize it's about the benjamins. That is, it's about the determinants of the overall demand for each game: the absolute and relative quality of the matchup, any feelings of rivalry the two schools' fans have, the willingness and ability of fans to travel, etc.

But it's a bowl game and the Tigers, and all other programs that feel slighted for one reason or another in NCAA FBS football, could be doing what many other teams and their fans will do this year: stay home for the holidays.

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