Penalties for unsold bowl tickets an unsettling flaw; more Mailbag
As you may have heard, a historic blizzard crippled New York City earlier this week. I didn't leave my Brooklyn apartment for two days. Once I did, I arrived at our midtown offices to find 50th Street shut down while snowplows tried to dig out evidence that it still existed. All the while, I kept reminding myself of the light at the end of the tunnel: Within a few days, I'd be in sunny Southern California for the Rose Bowl.
But I realize my personal warmth and comfort does not concern the average football fan, and with each passing year, I notice a growing faction that would happily do away with the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, etc., in favor of mid-December quarterfinal playoff games on cold, snowy campuses around the country. Like this guy:
I've been reading a lot of doom-and-gloom bowl-attendance tweets and articles the past couple of weeks, enough that I was going to start reporting a story about this trend. Then I did a little research and found out, much to my surprise, that bowl attendance is in fact
But that doesn't mean the bowl business is fine and dandy. Far from it. Over the past year, there's been greater awareness placed on one of the industry's dirty little secrets, ticket guarantees, and the financial implications for participating schools. Schools are required to sell significant and sometimes unrealistic ticket allotments and get stuck with the bill for any unsold inventory. The issue first raised my eyebrows thanks to an excellent
It's in large part because of these exposés that we've seen so many stories recently about Connecticut's current predicament. The school has sold fewer than 5,000 of its 17,500-ticket allotment to Saturday's Fiesta Bowl, which will cost it more than $2 million. The school's cut of the Big East's $21 million BCS payout will offset much of it, but when combined with the hundreds of thousands it costs to fly and lodge a football team for a week, the school will still finish well in the red. Stanford has done slightly better for its cross-country Orange Bowl trip, selling 9,000 tickets, but opponent Virginia Tech has sold fewer than 7,000. Mind you, there will likely be two to three times as many Hokies fans in attendance come Jan. 3, but most of them were savvy enough to buy substantially cheaper tickets on StubHub ($11.99 as of Tuesday) or other Internet sites. The school and its conference, however, will still be on the hook for the unsold allotment.
The Fiesta and Orange bowls are the two notable exceptions to my earlier list of major bowls expecting packed houses. This goes back to what I wrote
To answer Kevin's original question: No, unsold bowl tickets are not going to bring about a playoff. The schools and conferences remain fiercely loyal to the bowls, and don't seem to mind the occasional financial hits. Look at Florida International. That school probably only brought a few hundred fans to the Little Caesars Bowl and will likely lose a few hundred-thousand dollars, but judging by coach Mario Cristobal's mad dash around the field and
But with all the attention this issue is receiving, the sport's leaders can no longer stand idly by and let this illogical financial model continue unabated. It's inane to expect an already critical public -- the majority of which wants substantial changes to the sport's postseason -- to accept a reality where Connecticut incurs an unnecessary $2 million-plus expense on a game in which it's contractually obligated to participate. The schools and conferences won't give up bowl berths, and the bowls won't sacrifice revenue. But there's got to be a way for both parties to meet in the middle so we can enjoy bowl season without having to feel dirty about it.
Holy cow, Steve, I think you just stumbled on to a whole new pay-for-play scheme -- extra benefits in the form of Best Buy gift certificates. Mom buys the Xbox for Christmas, player returns it. If caught, player tells the NCAA he had no knowledge of how his mother obtained the gift certificates.
Like most NCAA rules, there is a legitimate basis behind the one that garnered the Ohio State players' suspensions. For one, the NCAA frowns on players receiving "preferential" treatment for their status as athletes, and obviously the opportunity to cash in on trophies and title rings is not available to regular students. It also curtails a more serious possibility where boosters could essentially pay players by buying their swag for exorbitant amounts. But there's no denying the inherent contradiction, since the players can do whatever they want with these items the second their eligibility expires.
Perhaps the schools should keep this stuff in a safe-deposit box until graduation.
Again, we're dealing with two different arms of the organization. The Ohio State decision came from the NCAA's student-athlete reinstatement staff, which is charged with making quick, real-time decisions about a player's eligibility when it appears that a violation occurred. Ohio State was first contacted by the U.S. attorney's office about the suspicious memorabilia at the tattoo parlor on Dec. 7, reported its findings Dec. 18 and received a ruling Dec. 22. Now, If the NCAA's larger enforcement division has reason to believe this wasn't an "isolated incident" (as the school claimed), it can open an full-fledged investigation into whether the school itself is guilty of any infractions like the kind that landed USC and Michigan their sanctions. So far there's been no sign that's on the horizon.
Based on the NCAA's stated protocol for an appeals hearing, USC's chances shouldn't have improved. According to
There will still be a draft in April. It is the last organized NFL event that will occur once the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in March. And the Jan. 15 deadline to declare comes from the NFL, not the NCAA, and it's not changing either. Note there will only be four days this year between the national title game and the deadline. If Cam Newton, Nick Fairley or LaMichael James tells us before the game he "hasn't thought about" his decision yet, I'm crying foul.
After that it gets a little bit hazy. While a lockout seems inevitable at this point, we don't know when it would begin or how long it would last. It doesn't automatically start in March. If come May it's still business as usual, teams would be free to not only sign their draft picks, but to spend as much as the market commands. (Last year's top pick, Sam Bradford, got $50 million in guaranteed money.) However, rookie contracts are one of the big sticking points in the current stalemate, and many believe the NFLPA may wind up agreeing to some sort of rookie wage scale. If that's a possibility, teams may let their draft picks go unsigned until the CBA is resolved.
I've seen several different schools of thought on this. Alabama coach Nick Saban, for one, has told his underclass prospects to think twice about leaving this year because they'll risk losing a year of development if no mini-camps, training camps or even the season take place. Agents, of course, are trying to lure even marginal prospects and are using the rookie wage scale as the motivator (i.e., go in now so you can get to your first free-agent contract sooner). In the end, I don't see it making a big difference either way. The issue is far too complex for most 20- and 21-year-olds to comprehend, and many of them probably don't really care. If they're ready to leave school, they'll leave. If they think they're not ready, or enjoy college too much to leave, they'll come back, same as in any year. But those who do go may get stuck in football limbo.
That may sound low, but believe it or not it was only two years ago that we were writing about FOUR black coaches among (then) 119 FBS schools. Two years ago, four schools with openings hired black coaches. Last year there were seven, albeit mostly at non-BCS schools. So far this year we've seen three at BCS-conference schools. (Vanderbilt hired James Franklin, Colorado hired Jon Embreee and Pittsburgh hired Michael Haywood). While there's no excusing the depths that number reached, there's been considerable progress in the past few years. However, the Rooney Rule is first and foremost about ensuring teams at least interview minority candidates, and occasionally we still see colleges that don't provide that opportunity. If there were a Rooney Rule in college, West Virginia would get a fine, seeing as its athletic director hand-picked the new coach (Dana Holgorsen) before the job was even open.
At the end of the process, however, every school must hire the best possible candidate regardless of race. Remember all the flack (including accusations of racism) that Auburn took for hiring Gene Chizik over Turner Gill? It sure seems AD Jay Jacobs got that one right. Meanwhile, Louisville's Charlie Strong, who waited what seemed like an eternity for his first head-coaching gig, is doing exactly what most of us believed he would in quickly leading the Cardinals back to respectability. In fact, a case can be made that the veteran Strong is in a far better position to succeed than Ron Prince, Karl Dorrell and many of the other infamous flameouts before him. Check out this fascinating empirical column from
Speaking of diversity, there was very little of it in my inbox this week (in fact, 80 percent of the e-mails were Ohio State/NCAA-related queries), presumably because of the holiday break. Amazingly, by this time next week teams will have played 30 of the 35 bowl games and I'll be in Arizona. We should have plenty to talk about then.