23.8.06

BUYING BOWL ELIGIBILITY. Phil Miller at The Sports Economist discovers that the hottest college football program at schedule completion time is ... Buffalo.

Buffalo became such a hot commodity in the off-season that it broke contracts with West Virginia and Rutgers because Auburn and Wisconsin were offering at least double the money. Troy State of Alabama will receive $750,000 from Nebraska to play in Lincoln this season. Louisiana-Lafayette will get the same amount from Tennessee next year.

With the weakest teams in Division I-A becoming more expensive, top programs are stooping lower for competition. Iowa, a Big Ten favorite this year, wooed Montana, a Division I-AA program, for $650,000.

“It’s all about the money — any administrator will tell you that,” said Rich Rodriguez, the head coach at West Virginia. Buffalo dropped West Virginia from its schedule, without even a courtesy phone call, to earn an extra $300,000 to play at Wisconsin. Mr. Rodriguez added: “It’s not for the excitement of college football. Let’s not kid ourselves.”

The joys of life in the Mid-American. Poor Troy University, last seen in these pages giving Northern Illinois an opportunity to come from behind at the Silicon Valley Bowl, is still Troy State as far as the New York Times is concerned. (Sorry, Richard.) Northern Illinois has climbed out of the "bought win" category, going for the two point conversion and a shot at a win in Evanston and getting robbed on their last trip to Madison, thereby extracting a visit from Iowa to Soldier Field, but the opener at Ohio State and the Iowa game, as well as a division winner's schedule in the Mid-American, expose the guys to a risk.

When the N.C.A.A. proposed allowing 12 games, most coaches objected. Some saw the proposal as exploiting players to fill athletic department coffers. When the extra opponent is a bigger, faster and stronger team, not only does the risk of embarrassment rise, but the potential for injury also increases.

N.C.A.A. officials agree that the change was about money. Football home games are typically the primary source of revenue for an entire athletic department. Other than football, the only college sport that makes consistent money is men’s basketball. The other men’s and women’s sports, except in rare cases, cost more to run than they generate.

David Berst, the N.C.A.A.’s vice president for Division I, said the organization’s board authorized the 12th game because universities could increase revenue. He said data showed no significant injury risk in playing one more game. Coaches are resigned to the change.

Catch that "no significant injury risk." Small sample!

That is because the 12th game means another Saturday to fill hotel rooms, pack restaurants and bring in millions of dollars more in ticket and concession sales. Wisconsin and Auburn, for example, have stadiums that hold more than 80,000 fans and can usually sell out any game, regardless of the
opponent.

Adding a weak team like Buffalo can be beneficial for two reasons. First, it practically guarantees a victory. Second, weak teams will visit for a lower price than better teams, meaning a higher profit on each home game. And many of the weaker teams do not insist on a home-and-home series that would require the better team to visit the next year. That means the better team has an open home date for the next season, which it can use to play another weak team.

But Buffalo, which was once a solid State University of New York operation with no athletic aspirations, is unlikely to attract the kind of beer-and-circus student buzz its decision to join the Mid-American and obtain visibility in athletic programs. (Read Murray Sperber's Beer and Circus for the elaboration of this argument.) The newest member of the Mid-American is Temple, where the attendance and revenue pressures will also be growing.

One suspects, however, that the Times reporter has never been to Madison.
Fans at Wisconsin may complain about sitting through home games against Western Illinois, San Diego State and Buffalo. But the coaches love it, even if they oppose the idea of a 12th game. Wisconsin will be favored in all three games and, by winning, would be halfway to qualifying for a bowl game.
Answer me this, New York Times: how many Badger fans are actually watching those games? Western Illinois, incidentally, is not an opponent to be taken lightly. But the bought wins are not prostituting selling themselves cheaply.
[Wisconsin associate athletic director John] Chadima, who has arranged Wisconsin’s schedule for 17 years, said he had seen a sharp increase in the cost for nonconference foes over the past five seasons.

For the weaker teams, a bigger appearance check means a chance to upgrade. Buffalo Coach Turner Gill said the Bulls were able to buy new furniture for their football complex and improve their weight room with the $1.5 million from their three nonconference road games. Buffalo plays in the Mid-American Conference.
But there appear to be some troubles.
Not everyone is so rosy about the frenzy involved in finding a 12th opponent. West Virginia and Rutgers learned via the Internet during the off-season that Buffalo had broken their contracts for 2006. When Buffalo did not return phone calls about whether the deal was off, West Virginia’s president wrote to Buffalo’s president demanding an explanation.

“The manner in which it appears that this situation is being handled has detracted from the considerable respect we have gained over the years for your school and conference,” David C. Hardesty, West Virginia’s president, wrote on Feb. 26.

When Buffalo responded two weeks later, it said that the Mid-American Conference was in charge of its scheduling. Buffalo’s athletic director, Warde Manuel, said he regretted the way the situation was handled and that he, and not the conference, would handle Buffalo’s future scheduling.

“It literally had nothing to do with money,” Mr. Manuel said. “This wasn’t a money grab for me at all.”

Rick Chryst, commissioner of the Mid-American Conference, said he took over Buffalo’s scheduling because of Mr. Manuel’s being new to the job and the poor financial situation for the university’s athletic department.
Question: is Buffalo effectively in receivership with the conference facing being de-rated out of the major bowl circuit? (And $1.5 million for the weight room is well short of the new locker room, weight room, and study hall a-building in DeKalb.)

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