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Wednesday, December 4, 2002
Notre Dame's pot of gold really a BCS bowl

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

There are not many organizations that deal with change as well as the Bowl Championship Series.

In 2000, after Florida State went to the championship game despite having the same record as Miami, which beat the Seminoles earlier in the season, the BCS came up with a bonus point system that awarded teams for wins over quality opponents.

Carlyle Holiday
Irish QB Carlyle Holiday has been effective but unspectacular, but Notre Dame remains an exciting draw.
Before this season, computer polls with a weighted margin of victory were eliminated to stress win-loss records and strength of schedule.

But there's one inequity in the BCS' financial equation that the organization will not change. Notre Dame, an independent that doesn't play in a conference, gets a full BCS share for playing in either the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar or Orange Bowls. Teams in a conference -- every other BCS-eligible school -- split the money with the rest of their conference.

And if there are two teams from a conference in BCS games, they don't get two full shares. Instead, they get 1 1/3 (between $18.1 million and $18.6 million). The BCS distributes the final 2/3 ($9.1 million) equally among BCS' six member conferences.

BCS commissioner Mike Tranghese acknowledges that is "a huge inconsistency" if Notre Dame is awarded a spot in one of its games (and the Irish need help in several cases Saturday to get there).

While a Notre Dame bid could help sell tickets and garner higher television ratings, critics claim that Notre Dame's full financial reward for playing in a BCS game (rather than splitting the money with fellow conference members) is unfair.

The BCS awarded Notre Dame the voting power of a member conference and a full financial share equal to what an entire conference divvies up among its schools for playing in a BCS game. Tranghese says the agreement was unanimous.

Because the decision to take a particular school was subjective, rather than following a stringently followed formula based on final BCS standings, Tranghese said "member conferences were very supportive of not making money the issue." Others have suggested that a disproportionate amount of money earned by conferences year after year could corrupt an already highly-controversial bidding process.

College football's cash cow
Many college football prognosticators have given Notre Dame a chance at earning a BCS bid despite falling to No. 10 in the BCS standings after their 44-13 loss to Southern California on Saturday night. They mention that Notre Dame is too tempting because of the automatic money that would come from the Irish's inclusion.

But adding to the bowl and network coffers isn't necessarily a guarantee.

"There is a perception that Notre Dame brings more money to the event," media consultant and former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson said. "But aside from the variable of ticket sales, having some impact on ratings doesn't immediately translate into increased advertising dollars for (BCS network partner) ABC and might not even translate down the road."

While the fan base behind Notre Dame might result in higher television ratings, advertisers could argue -- as they might contend when the Yankees aren't playing in the World Series -- that an increase can't be justified.

Pilson says the perceived ratings and monetary return on Notre Dame might not be worth the credibility hit should a bowl ditch a more qualified opponent and the game turn into a blowout.

Notre Dame's 41-9 loss to Oregon State in the Fiesta Bowl two years ago was the second worst loss in BCS history, one point behind Florida's 56-23 drubbing of Maryland in last year's Orange Bowl matchup.

"The impact of Notre Dame on the overall ratings of the BCS -- being that they could play in only one of four games -- will be marginal at best," Pilson said. "That means it's certainly not a slam dunk since BCS bowls have to weigh against possible credibility issues if people can make the argument that Notre Dame is only playing in the game because of its name and reputation."

-- Darren Rovell

Oklahoma athletics director Joe Castiglione, for one, says he sees the value that Notre Dame brings to college football. Still, he says, there remains an inequity in the money other BCS member conference schools make from their BCS appearance.

"A school would have to make it in for six years for them to get as much money as Notre Dame gets with one BCS game," said Castiglione, whose Sooners would receive a BCS bid with a victory over Colorado in the Big 12 championship game on Saturday. "They have an inherent financial advantage in that sense."

"Whether it's right or wrong, (Notre Dame) has been entitled to a full share from the outset," Tranghese said. "Some might not like it, but when we came together in the early '90s (the Bowl Coalition was founded in 1992), Notre Dame was at the table. If they hadn't come to the table at that time, we could very well be operating under the old bowl system."

While, as an independent, Notre Dame collects a full share of a BCS game payout -- an Orange Bowl bid would mean $13.6 million to the school -- the Pac-10 Conference will be awarded only one-third of a share more to split among its 10 member schools if Washington State and Southern Cal play in BCS games. As Pac-10 champion, either Washington State or USC would play in the Rose Bowl.

Under that scenario, the Pac-10 will collect the Rose Bowl's $14.1 million payout, which is approximately $500,000 more than any other bowl payout this year, and a $4.5 million payout from a second BCS game. The Pac-10 could also collect another $3 million, its portion of the remainder of shares from two conferences that have two teams, but that could be cut in half if Notre Dame is afforded an at-large bid to a BCS game.

"We didn't want too much financial pressure riding on these decisions," Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen conceded. Tranghese said giving conferences a second full share "isn't supposed to be what this is all about."

But it could be said that financial pressures already are a major factor in the decision-making process and that disallowing a second full share only serves to widen the gap between Notre Dame's reward and those conferences that have two schools going to BCS games.

Others say that it's the priority of the conferences to split the money in a fashion that makes Notre Dame's winnings seem so much more significant. Should conferences decide to award a full share to the school that earned the BCS bid, the issue would be moot.

Notre Dame officials contend that they've earned the right to a full share since, unlike every other BCS member conference school, the Irish's independence makes it impossible to reliably budget bowl dollars into their bottom line before the season starts.

"Unlike all other BCS universities, Notre Dame realizes no revenues from games in which it does not participate," Notre Dame athletics director Kevin White said. "So for Notre Dame, it's simply feast or famine."

The thought that Notre Dame's winnings from the bowl would allow them to directly affect its athletic resources is erroneous, Notre Dame sports information director John Heisler said. Once the school's athletic budget is funded, additional revenue goes back to the university.

The combination of playing in bowl games, coupled with the revenue generated from its contract with NBC (a reported $9.2 million a year through 2005), has helped Notre Dame fulfill its financial aid capacity, Heisler said.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com