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Why Isn’t Return of Bowl/TV Money a Penalty for NCAA Infractions?

UPDATE: Based on the massive amounts of tweets and emails I have received since posting this, some clarification is in order. Many believe you all (my valued readers) are not smart enough to know that non-AQ teams individually receive less than AQ teams when the day is done. I believe you all know this. But, just in case you don’t, I’ve revised the information below to make it abundantly clear.

Listening to sports talk radio over the past couple of weeks I’ve heard quite a few people suggest that the only real punishment for a program like USC or Ohio State would be to hit them in the wallet. Quite a few of you believe there should be a return of tv and bowl payout money if a team has to vacate games. Let’s talk about why that will likely never be a penalty in college football.

First, here’s something important you should know, if you don’t already. How do the payouts work for BCS bowl games (Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, Orange) and the National Championship Game?

I bet many of you didn’t know the first team selected from one of the non-AQ conferences (MAC, WAC, Sun Belt, Mountain West, C-USA) actually receives a larger, yes larger, amount than a team who automatically qualify from one of the AQ conferences (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, Big East). It’s true, although that’s before conferences get involved. The first team selected from a non-AQ conference receives $24.7 million* (see below for how this payout is handled). The automatic qualifiers from the six AQ conferences receive $21.2 million each. Any other AQ teams who play in BCS bowls take in $6 million each.

In fact, the non-AQ conferences receive money even if no team from a non-AQ conference is selected for a BCS bowl game, to the tune of $12.35 million. Whether the non-AQs have a team in and receive the $24.7 million, or receive the $12.35 million for not having a team in, they have decided amongst themselves to divide BCS monies evenly between all five conferences. That’s their choice.

Now, based on tweets and email received after I wrote this piece, I need to explain this a little bit further. It is true that the first non-AQ team selected for a BCS bowl receives more than an automatic qualifying team – but that’s before conferences get involved. Payouts are filtered through the conference the team belongs to, and the conference decides how to divide the payout. The non-AQ conferences have decided in an agreement amongst themselves to divide all BCS money equally between all conferences. By contrast, each AQ conference keeps what it receives and determines how to divide amongst the schools. Most subtract expenses of the team who participated and then divide the rest equally. At the end of the day, each AQ school receives more than each non-AQ school. But, I’m pretty sure you all knew that already.

Just for the sake of spreading knowledge, there are other teams who receive a BCS share even if they don’t compete. Notre Dame, for example, receives $6 million if they are chosen for a BCS bowl, but still receive $1.7 million even if they aren’t selected. Army and Navy each receive $100,000, even if not chosen for a BCS bowl. In addition, each FCS conference (who don’t even participate in the BCS) receive $250,000.

Now that we’ve covered how payouts work, make note that the NCAA has no involvement whatsoever. That’s the short answer as to why a return of bowl money isn’t part of any NCAA penalty. It’s out of their control.

The BCS would have to demand the return of bowl money. That’s not going to happen. I heard Bill Hancock on the radio months ago talking about USC’s penalties and he was asked why they weren’t taking back the payout received by USC for the BCS National Championship Game since the win was being vacated. It was pretty simple in his mind: if USC hadn’t played in that game, another Pac-10 team would have played in a BCS bowl since the Pac-10 gets an automatic berth. So, either way the Pac-10 would have gotten the same payout, because as I described above, the payout is the same whether you’re playing in the title game or any of the other four BCS bowls. Plus, the payout goes to the conference, not to the individual team. That makes it easy for the BCS to put the burden on the conferences. The Pac-10 would have to reclaim the funds from USC for the portion they received. That’s never going to happen.

Even as USC serves their bowl ban, they’re still receiving the same distribution from the now Pac-12 as they would receive if they were participating in bowls. The only real loss is the actual playing in the bowl, which I would imagine has a larger impact on the players than the institution. The school will still receive the same financial benefits from the conference, including a portion of the BCS payout to the conference.

The same is largely true when we talk about reclaiming television money as a penalty. It would have to be a conference level decision, and a conference is never going to penalize a team like that. However, the NCAA does have a penalty whereby they can ban a program from live television appearances. They haven’t used it since 1994, when Ole Miss was banned for one year. Most believe it’s no longer used because it impacts more than just the school being punished – the punishment is felt by every program that plays the school, especially FCS schools who are missing their shot to be on television and increase their profile.

I’m not defending the situation, but I hope I’ve shed some light on why a return of bowl or tv money is never discussed in terms of penalties levied by the NCAA.

*These are the numbers from the 2010-2011 season.

About Kristi Dosh

Kristi A. Dosh is the founder of BusinessofCollegeSports.com and has served as a sports business analyst and contributor for outlets such as Forbes, ESPN, SportsBusiness Journal, Bleacher Report, SB Nation and more. She is also the author of a book on the business of college football, Saturday Millionaires. Kristi is a sought-after consultant and speaker on topics related to the business of college sports and a former practicing attorney. Click to learn more
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