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Death to the BCS: Book examines economics of college football

Solid Sugar Bowl the other night. #6 Ohio State dominated much of the first three quarters, but #8 Arkansas rallied late, and it took a last-minute Buckeyes’ interception to seal a 31-26 victory.

OK, so Ohio State survives to live another week. Bring on the winner of Auburn-Troy.


“It’s about power and about consolidation of power. That’s the issue here,” said Jeff Passan, a Yahoo! Sports columnist and one of the coauthors of Death to the BCS, which, as the title suggests, wishes bad tidings upon the college-football postseason system that gives us essentially a one-game playoff and a ton of meaningless exhibition games outside of that.

“There’s a lot more money to be made, and the people who are in charge of the BCS admit that. But money is not the important thing. The important thing is keeping the Big Ten and Big 12 and the SEC and ACC and Big East and Pac 10 in charge of college football, and not letting those lesser teams, in their eyes, those lesser conferences crash their party,” Passan said.

A lot more money to be made, indeed. Passan et al talked with TV execs and sports-business experts to try to put a price tag on a 16-team playoff. Conservative estimates put the value – including TV rights, ticket sales, concessions and memorabilia – at $750 million a year. The current bowl system generates $220 million a year, and most schools lose money on their appearances

“You’re leaving a potential $500 million-plus on the table, and giving a disproportionate cut to the independent businessmen who are running these games,” Passan said.

That was among the more surprising findings reported in the book. I assumed like a lot of you probably do that bowl games are charitable enterprises run to give money back to local charities like Boys and Girls Clubs and staffed by volunteer business executives who do what they do out of pure goodwill. That’s what the bowl powers-that-be tells us is the case, and we’ve all bought that hook, line and sinker. The rule of thumb is that bowl CEOs and executive directors bring down six-figure salaries to run their games, and the charitable endeavors funded by the remaining proceeds are limited at best in reach.

The question, then – why do college and university administrators play along to the tune of leaving $500 million-plus on the table while having to eat huge losses for playing in often-obscure and always-meaningless bowls? The answer: more money, more money, more money.

“Bowl games are still in existence in the form they are because their CEOs make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to run one or two games. And because they support the people who run college athletics, the athletics directors, and other people in the power structure there. Giving them free vacations and treating them to lavish dinners. These two entities end up protecting each other, and the good of college football is lost in the whole midst of that,” Passan said.

To the thrilling conclusion to Ohio State-Arkansas, then, and the scintillating finish to #3 TCU’s 21-10 win in the Rose Bowl over #5 Wisconsin. Much more meaningful if they’re part of a playoff. Nice spectacles in and of themselves. Fodder for the respective coaches to break down in the spring otherwise.

“That’s the sad part about this whole thing,” Passan said. “We would have seen great matchups in the first round of a 16-team playoff, and fact is we would have had three more rounds after that. Instead all we get are these one-off games where you get to enjoy it for a day, and then you get to forget about it for the next nine months.”

Review by Chris Graham. More sports news and views from

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