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C-USA getting the most out of its bowls

HAD A LITTLE fun last week tweeting about Marshall's $54,000 profit in its bowl game last February.

A small but welcome sum from a small but welcome bowl for the Thundering Herd. But it also serves to illustrate that (a) Conference USA works well most of the time and (b) the bowls are even screwier than we thought.

A number of you are thinking, or should be thinking: Huh? Didn't West Virginia lose nearly $218,000 on its trip to that Orange Bowl? You know, one of those BCS bowls San Diego State is joining the Big East for a better shot at?

When that news came out, WVU partisans unanimously agreed that it was a small price to pay for the exposure. I not only agree, I think it was worth that much to drop 70 on Clemson.

Except for this: Wasn't the Orange an open-the-vault BCS bowl with an alleged $17.5 million payout?

I have a good enough understanding of the process, and know roughly why WVU lost money - outlandish ticket burdens (at outrageous prices) placed on the school, demands on teams arriving early and staying a week, faulty revenue sharing by the conference, and perhaps a little extra spending by the WVU folks.

And yes, the Orange Bowl wields a hammer here. If you turn down a trip to Miami, how do you sell that to recruits?

As Marshall's case in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl St. Petersburg illustrates, it doesn't have to be that way. Remember, the "payout" for that bowl is nowhere close to $17.5 million.

In C-USA, the school got the first $100,000 of ticket revenue, no questions, and split the rest even with the conference. The league office's goal is to pool that money, assume the tab for "reasonable expenses" the teams incur, and try to make all participating schools whole.

The Herd did not have to make it to St. Pete until the Saturday before a Tuesday game - long enough to allow the players time to enjoy their environs, short enough to be sensible.

Marshall wasn't the school needing the most help from the league. Southern Mississippi was the one flying from Hattiesburg (or another nearby airport) to Honolulu, the Golden Eagles' consolation prize after getting jobbed in the new Liberty Bowl agreement.

And perhaps C-USA's agreement with its partner bowls reduces some of their shenanigans, egregious offenses such as the Sugar Bowl charging $350 apiece for the Louisiana State president, athletic director and coach's family to attend. (Many thanks to Yahoo! Sports for that recent ray of sunshine.)

Whatever the case, the league office held expenses down as much as possible and pooled its revenues, easing the fiscal pain all the way around. And that's why David Steele, MU athletics' top number-cruncher, was able to tell me his department made a few dimes.

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  • One hopes the playoff movement - is this really gaining traction, or are we being teased again? - will snap bowl officials into some semblance of ethical behavior.

    It seems to be treated like a negative, but I hope the proposed four-team playoff evolves into a full-blown "December Madness" 24-team field.

    Failing that, the presidents on the NCAA Division I Board of Directors should take time out from their latest attempt to sneak the pay-for-play proposal past its opposing membership to address this.

    If I was benevolent czar of college football and otherwise stuck with the bowl system, here is what we do:

  • Make the bowl organizations take care of the players from the moment they hit the ground to the moment they board the plane to return home. They're the reason these bowls are watchable, after all.
  • By NCAA licensing edict, legitimately "comp" the players and coaches four tickets each (as is the case with regular-season games), and give the president and athletic directors a sky box or other preferred seating. Oh, yeah, comp the band.
  • Make the bowls market and sell their own tickets. Use the schools' ticket offices as they need, yes, but the bowls need to shoulder the risk. All of it.
  • It's a novel concept: Let the free market sort it out. Some games would prosper, some would wither, some more would sprout up. TV rights, ratings and corporate sponsors would be even more important.

    As with most good ideas, it will never happen. But I have a feeling that, in the long term, it wouldn't reduce the number of bowls at all.

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  • In realignment follies, it seems Old Dominion is balancing its desire to go to Conference USA with that of staying eligible for the 2012 FCS playoffs. That is leading, several reports say, to a delay of ODU's announcement until June.

    That also gives the school more time to line up its donors and, one hopes, educate the local media a little. Stories and columns harp on the additional expenses, but neglect to mention the certain sizable increase in revenues from the Colonial Athletic Association.

    (The aforementioned Steele has assured me, in every inquiry I have made, that Marshall's increased travel bill has been outpaced by the increase in TV revenue every year since the move from the MAC.)

    Meanwhile, Middle Tennessee is making a last-ditch run to be member No. 14 (even without a beach, I'm starting to like that better.) Appalachian State is talking with C-USA, not the Sun Belt, for its climb to the FBS.

    The southernmost Mountaineers would enter the league as the second most scenic venue in the league (El Paso's Sun Bowl leads, by far). I think they would have good support from MU, North Carolina-Charlotte, East Carolina and Old Dominion.

    Which may overcome ASU's stigma of the miniscule Boone "market." Stay tuned.

    Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsmock@wvgazette.com

    or twitter.com/dougsmock.


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