PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- In this final year of the Bowl Championship Series, college bowl sponsorship remains a sliding scale of corporate haves and obscure small-business have nots.
At the top of the pile are the January BCS bowls and their big-money sponsors, including PepsiCo's (PEP) Tostitos (Fiesta Bowl), Allstate (ALL) (Sugar Bowl), Vizio (Rose Bowl) and Discover (DFS) (Orange Bowl and the BCS Championship). Toward the bottom of the pile are the low-budget, mid-December bowls with lesser-known sponsors including Gildan (GIL) athletic wear for the Dec. 15 New Mexico Bowl, the Idaho Potato Commission for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl the same day and the San Diego County Credit Union for the Dec. 22 Poinsettia Bowl.
It's a simple matter of supply and demand. When bowls such as the Cotton Bowl and Citrus Bowl have decades of history and roughly $4 million to pay out to high-ranked teams, it's a whole lot easier to draw sponsor whales such as AT&T (T) and Capital One (COF). When you're the New Orleans Bowl with only $500,000 to give teams and a legacy that started in 2001, it's Ohio shipping company R+L Carriers to the rescue.
In the middle, however, is an odd mishmash of high-profile companies trying to keep their name in customers' faces and little guys looking for their big break. Every so often, this yields a head-scratching bowl name that leaves fans wondering how it happened. We found the five bowl sponsorship examples that didn't quite pass the sniff test, starting with:Holiday Bowl
Sponsor: Bridgepoint Education (BPI)
Location: San Diego
Matchup: Baylor vs. UCLA
Payout: $2.4 million Think what you will of Baylor and UCLA, but they're universities with solid histories and serious reputations. They have sprawling campuses, honored faculty and a student body that matriculates, graduates and becomes a proud, multigenerational alumni base. Bridgepoint Education and its for-profit Ashford University and University of the Rockies don't quite match up. These regionally accredited, cash-gulping, mostly online diploma mills (Ashford University has a campus in Clinton, Iowa; University of the Rockies has a building in Colorado Springs, Colo.) clear more than $200 million in profits, but drew an audit from the Department of Education in 2008 that found Bridgepoint was paying recruiters based on enrollments, improperly clinging to $1.1 million in federal funding and sitting on financial aid payments made to students who'd already withdrawn. That's no small chunk of financial aid, either, as a Senate hearing chaired by Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin found that more than 60% of Bridgepoint students withdraw before completing their programs. Of Bridgepoint's hundreds of millions in profits, more than 86% come from federal funds. While for-profit University of Phoenix's stadium will be empty during this year's bowl season, students and athletes from each of the schools in this bowl should consider themselves fortunate that members of Congress have never had to say the following about their universities: "In the world of for-profit higher education, spectacular business success is possible despite an equally spectacular record of student failure," Harkin said. "Bridgepoint is a private company, but it is almost entirely dependent upon public funds ... I think this is a scam, an absolute scam."
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