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BOSTON ( MainStreet) -- College football bowl games will hand out the first $1.8 million of their more than $260 million in payouts this weekend, but some bowls are deeper than others when it comes to their coffers.
The three bowl games played Saturday are the first of 35 that will kick off between now and Jan. 8. Of the 120 teams in the NCAA's Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, only 50 won't be playing in bowl games. The requirements for bowl eligibility are so loose that a dozen teams, or more than 17% of the bowl field, qualified with 6-6 regular-season records. UCLA, at 6-7 on the year, managed to sneak into the
Kraft(KFT) Fight Hunger Bowl on New Year's Eve with a losing record.
At least UCLA's conference, the Pac-12, will see a big chunk of that $260 million. More than half of the total bowl payout goes immediately to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big East, Big 10, Pac-12, Big 12 and Southeast Conference -- whose champions get automatic bids and who soaked up most of the at-large bids this year. Those conference's champions and at-large squads that secured bids in the Bowl Championship Series' biggest events, including the all-SEC Louisiana State-Alabama BCS National Championship game, have exclusive rights to the more than $90 million paid out by the Bowl Championship Series' five biggest events.
That's just fine by
PepsiCo's(PEP) Frito-Lay, which paid millions for multiyear sponsorship of the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Fiesta Bowl, respectively, with rotating sponsorship of the BCS Championship game.
Fox(NWS - Get Report), meanwhile pays $20 million per game to broadcast four of the five BCS games, while ABC's contract for the Rose Bowl cost it $300 million through 2014. The next most lucrative bowl pays more than $11 million less than a BCS matchup and both sponsors and the BCS are happy to keep it that way.
This top-heavy bowl power structure can get problematic. The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl found out the hard way this year this year when its governing body was fined $1 million and its $600,000-a-year chief executive fired for directing some of the bowl's $11.6 million profit toward illegal campaign contributions. It also doesn't help that even teams that qualify for BCS bowls can find themselves strapped for the experience. Last season, only 20 of the FBS' 120 athletic departments turned a profit. That's up from 14 the year before, but still represents a sharp division between the top 17% and everyone else.
The ACC's Virginia Tech, for example, reported its athletic department was nearly $500,000 in the red after the costs of going to the Orange Bowl earlier this year outweighed the payout. This year, Virginia Tech has sold fewer than 10,000 of the 17,500 tickets allotted to the school for its Sugar Bowl appearance. This year's Orange Bowl, meanwhile, features a West Virginia team that's sold little more than 7,000 of its 17,500 tickets and a Clemson team that's having a tough time breaking 6,000.
The Arizona Republic found that 41% of schools that went to BCS bowl games since 2007 reported losses as a result.
Even small bowls can end up bleeding a school. Two years ago, Fresno State played in the New Mexico Bowl and ended up spending nearly $400,000 more than its Western Athletic Conference got out of the deal. The same happened to Missouri at the 2009 Texas Bowl (now the
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas) when its trip to Houston went $470,000 over the Big XII's take.
With our mind on bowl money and bowl money on teams' minds, we took a look at the five most lucrative non-BCS bowls and the five bowls with the smallest payouts to see what games were worth playing. Let's just say it doesn't look good for Saturday's starting slate.