NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- College football is three games and $3.7 million in payouts into its bowl season with three weeks to go until the national title game. Let the holiday money parade begin.
The season began Saturday with the New Mexico, Humanitarian and New Orleans bowls, the first of 34 that will be played between now and the Bowl Championship Series title game in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10. Who won? Some more than others. The Mountain West Conference and the Western Athletic Conference got $750,000 each for Brigham Young University and the University of Texas-El Paso's time in Albequerque, with the WAC getting another $750,000 for Fresno State University's matchup against Northern Illinois University -- which also brought in $750,000 for the Mountain West Conference. That's better than the $325,000 payout the Sun-Belt Conference and Conference USA each got for the Troy-Ohio contest in New Orleans, but still well behind the $17 million to $18 million conferences earn for each team sent to the five BCS bowls.
Roughly $260 million will be doled out by the bowls this year, though more than half will immediately go to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big East, Big 10, Pac-10, Big 12 and Southeast Conference -- whose champions get automatic bids and who soaked up most of the at-large bids this year -- and the Mountain West Conference, thanks to Texas Christian University's undefeated season. Why? Because the BCS soaks up money like water on cleat-trampled sod.
Vizio, Discover (Stock Quote: DFS), Allstate (Stock Quote: ALL) and PepsiCo's (Stock Quote: PEP) Frito-Lay 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 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. This is how the BCS' five bowls can offer eight-figure payouts, while the most lucrative non-BCS bowl -- the CapitalOne (Stock Quote: COF) Bowl on New Year's Day in Orlando, Fla. -- offers the Big 10 and SEC $4.3 million apiece. The most lucrative bowl not to feature a conference with an automatic BCS bid, the AutoZone (Stock Quote: AZO) Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31 in Memphis, Tenn., drops the payday down to $1.8 million per conference -- and you have to win Conference USA as the University of Central Florida did for the right to play the SEC's eighth-best team.