Bowling for Dollars

ATHENS - December is here, which means Georgia is preparing for its bowl game, the 12th straight the Bulldogs have qualified for.

While head coach Mark Richt and his staff get the team prepared on the Woodruff Practice Fields, Frank Crumley sits four stories above them and out how to pay for it all.

Crumley, who is Georgia's executive associate athletics director, works on the fourth floor of the Butts-Mehre Building and handles the Athletic Association's finance. That means this is a busy time of year for him.

Annually, bowl games pump millions of dollars into the coffers of college athletic departments and conferences. Even the least attractive of college football's postseason games promise around a million dollars to each participating team.

For BCS games, that number goes up to between $12 and $16 million per team.

However, that's not all pure profit for a school. In fact, little of it makes it directly into a school's bank account.

For instance, this year's Capital One Bowl promises each team a payout of $4.32 million dollars, but the SEC school which participates keeps only $1.3 million of that, and all of that money, if not more, will be spent as a direct result of the bowl.

The biggest bowl expenses include travel, lodging and meals for the team and band and bonuses for the coaching staff, but there are plenty of others, including whatever travel party the school takes from the administration. Even for BCS bowls, where schools get to keep $1.8 million of their haul, most of the money is generally spent on the bowl, Crumley said, because coaches' bonuses are usually larger and lodging in more expensive in cities that host BCS bowls.

In other words, the Hyatt in the French Quarter in New Orleans, La., goes for a little higher rate than the Marriott in Shreveport. Schools often lose money on smaller bowl games, Crumley said, at least initially.

Where SEC teams make their bowl money is when the conference makes its annual payout. All the bowl money that isn't kept by the schools, goes to the SEC, which then splits that total 13 ways, giving each school and equal share and keeping one for itself.

So, last season, when the Bulldogs went to the Sugar Bowl, they broke even from their initial payment but then got a check for $2.1 million from the SEC.

"You're going to come out in the black once it's all over," Crumley said.

Although sources of revenue in college athletics have increased exponentially over the last two decades, bowls remain a powerful source of money, if not for their direct input then for their indirect effect.

"The importance is going to a bowl because I think that contributes to other things clicking," Crumley said. "You hear people say, ‘Why would they go to this bowl or that bowl?' It's exposure.

That triggers (donations). That triggers ticket sales. Your rights holders are selling things easier. It's all tied together. If you're not going to a bowl, those other things are going to go down over time."

Georgia has been to a bowl game following every since 1997.

The Bulldogs will move to No. 4 on the all-time list this year after former leader Michigan, which had been to 33 straight bowls, missed out this year in the first season of head coach Rich Rodriquez' tenure. (The Wolverines fell three appearances short of setting a new NCAA record for consecutive bowl appearances. Nebraska participated in 35 straight bowl games from 1968 to 2003.

Only Florida State (27), Florida (18) and Virginia Tech (16) have been to more consecutive bowls than the Bulldogs.

For fans, that's a source of pride. For the athletic department, it likely means a lot more.

"That's attributable to winning," Crumley said.

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