Other examples of bowls where participants spent more to attend than they earned for their conferences in the payout include the New Mexico Bowl, where Fresno State spent $390,000 more than the Western Athletic Conference received; the Texas Bowl, where Missouri spent $467,000 more than the Big 12 Conference received; and the New Orleans Bowl, where Middle Tennessee State's appearance cost the Sun Belt Conference at least $50,000.
"I buy television, and I buy bowl access," Sun Belt Commissioner Waters said in an interview. "I do it for the exposure for our schools and the enhancement of recruitment, and all the things that go with additional TV and bowl opportunities."
An NCAA report released in August for fiscal year 2008-09 said 14 athletic departments of the 120 schools in college football's bowl subdivision had an operating profit, down from 25 in 2006-07 and 2007-08.
Growth in athletic revenue slowed to 5.8 percent in 2008- 09, from 17 percent the previous year, while median expenses grew 10.9 percent, compared with 5.5 percent a year earlier, the report said.
Rutgers is an example of a school that spent its way to national prominence, playing in five straight bowl games, while mired in debt.
The Scarlet Knights' athletic department received almost half its $58.5 million in revenue in 2008-09 from state subsidies and student fees, with $17.9 million coming from the university and $7.8 million in student fees. The school cut six sports teams to reduce expenses in 2007. None of its programs were profitable in the fiscal year ended 2009, according to the school.
Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti said attending bowl games helps him build his football program and neither he nor the conference wants to give them up. Instead, they'll look more closely at expenses.
"The best-case scenario is the payouts going up," Pernetti said in an interview. "But we also have to focus on keeping our budget tight and constantly look for ways to trim costs."
This year, Rutgers finished 4-8 and won't play in a bowl.
Former Stanford Athletic Director Ted Leland, now vice president for external relations at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., says the system isn't likely to change.
"It's too late to put any kind of controls on the conferences anymore," Leland said in an interview. "Everyone's economic interests from the coaches to the commissioners are aligned now and they all benefit from playing in a bowl game."
Leland notes that teams can qualify for a bowl with a 6-6 regular-season record and a losing conference mark. Texas A&M (6-6 overall, 3-5 in the Big 12), Minnesota (6-6, 3-5 in the Big Ten) and UCLA (6-6, 3-6 in the Pac-10) were among eight teams that played in a bowl game last year without posting a winning record.
This year, 14 schools will play in a bowl game after finishing 6-6. Illinois, Georgia and Tennessee are among them.
"If you are a conference commissioner and vote not to go to a bowl game, you'd lose your job," Leland said. "The athletic director would be viewed as disloyal to the football program and to the coaches who want their bonuses."
The NCAA says the responsibility of signing contracts with bowls falls directly on the conferences. The NCAA has no plans to require bowls to increase payouts enough to cover teams' expenses, something that would probably decrease the number of bowls, said Nick Carparelli Jr., chairman of the organization's bowl licensing subcommittee and Big East Conference associate commissioner.
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