Bowl Championship Series officials often use bowl games to defend their corrupt system.
"I've seen what the bowl system has done for college football," BCS coordinator Bill Hancock told the Tulsa World. "I understand when I see a kid get to see the ocean for the first time.
"There are so many wonderful things in the bowl system. I think bowls have created a lot of wonderful memories for a lot of players, coaches and fans over the years."
But like everything else, sending a team to a bowl game comes at a cost, and that cost sometimes comes at the expense of a state-funded university.
The Big East's payout to West Virginia for its trip to the 2008 Fiesta Bowl was $2,425,600, but the team's expenses totaled $3,495,000. That's a loss of $1,069,400.
Florida and Ohio State ran up more than $5 million in expenses in the 2007 BCS title game, finishing with a combined deficit of more than $600,000.
Texas A&M racked up losses of $489,978 for its trip to the 2006 Holiday Bowl.
Ball State lost $142,398 on its appearance last season in the GMAC Bowl.
Northern Illinois reported a loss of $154,125 for its trip last year to the Independence Bowl. That's considerably better than the $317,898 it lost for an appearance in the 2006 Poinsettia Bowl.
Ohio lost $277,550 for its trip to the 2007 GMAC Bowl. The university dipped into general reserve funds to pay the tab, weeks after the school dropped track, swimming and lacrosse. Funding those sports cost less than $200,00 annually.
Who's getting rich? The bowls, of course, or at least some of the people associated with them. In 2006, Outback Bowl president Jim McVay had a salary of about $490,000, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Gary Cavalli, the executive director of the Emerald Bowl, had a salary of $362,018 back then.
These are cushy gigs when you consider that the games have automatic tie-ins with conferences. The heavy lifting is already done. Not like the old days when bowls had to scramble to get teams.
How did this come to be? Part of the blame goes to university administrators for their lack of cost containment.
"The trustees, the administration are along for the ride," said Murray Sperber, former chairman of the Drake Group, a national faculty committee pushing for college sports reform. "The same administrators that are supposed to be watching over this are right there on the charter planes to the bowl."
Ticket allocations and hotel contracts dictated by the bowl committees are other problems. Teams are required to buy a certain number of tickets to a bowl game, and if they fall short of selling their allotment, it's money down the drain.
Kyle Shaner of the Ball State Daily News put on the journalistic gloves earlier this year and contacted every school whose team played in a bowl game last season. He requested the number of tickets sold through the school for the team's appearance in the bowl game. Those are the tickets that count toward the allotment.
Memphis, Texas Christian, Pittsburgh and Maryland declined to participate, and the likely reason is an embarrassingly low number of tickets sold. Maryland, for example, played in the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, and less than two weeks before the game, the Terrapins had sold all of 16 tickets, according to the Baltimore Sun. Nevada, which was Maryland's opponent, ended up selling 163 tickets. That is two more than what Fresno State sold for its appearance in the New Mexico Bowl.
Texas Christian, which played in the Poinsettia Bowl against Boise State, sold less than 5,000. This is based on an eyewitness account from the Wiz. Officials reported an attendance of 34,628 for the San Diego game.
On the other end of the scale we have Penn State, which sold all of its allotment of 25,000 tickets to the Rose Bowl. There were more than 25,000 Nittany Lion fans at the game, this again based on my eyewitness account. Many fans went through third parties to get tickets. Again, the chart below represents the number of tickets sold through the university.
In 1996, there were 18 bowl games. There are 34 this year, and the number could grow to 36 by next season.
Expect to see a lot of empty seats at many of the bowls this postseason, in part because of the weak economy. Just remember that a lot of those empty seats are paid for, so it's no loss to the bowls.
It pays to be in the bowl business, and it usually comes at the expense of universities. Doesn't seem right, does it?
But — at least in Hancock's mind — it's a small price to pay to have a kid get his first look at the ocean.