The Bowls:  Inside the Numbers
By Will Stewart, 1/14/00

This yearís clogged bowl schedule featured an astonishing 23 bowl games, which means that 46 teams teed it up in postseason play, an equally astonishing number when you consider that there are only 114 Division 1-A teams. Therefore, just over forty percent Ė four out of every ten Ė Division 1-A teams got to play in a bowl.

Now for me personally, this isnít really a problem. I like college football. I like it a lot. And the bowl season provides a rare opportunity to see teams from around the country in action, plus personal favorite teams that I donít get to see play much, like ECU, Penn State, Texas A&M, and Kansas State.

I mean, think about it. Six Saturdays out of the year, my day is eaten up by a Hokie football game, so I donít get to sit down and watch anybody else play. But during bowl season, I get to see lots of teams play, if I so choose.

Back to the topic. In their November 29, 1999 print edition, The USA Today listed all 23 bowls and their estimated payouts per team. Surprisingly, the payout information is difficult to find on-line, so I saved the paper for later analysis. That analysis is now complete, and it brings to light some illuminating facts concerning everything from the money paid out by those bowls to the records of the conferences that played in them.

Note that for purposes of discussion, this article assumes that the payouts for the BCS bowls (Rose, Sugar, Orange, and Fiesta) were $12 million per team per bowl. The USA Today listed the payouts at $11.5-$13 million per team, so for this article, we rounded it to $12 per team.

Also note that when I refer to the "Big Six" conferences, Iím referring to the conferences tied into the BCS: SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC-10, ACC, and Big East. Conferences such as Conference USA and the Mountain West are "non-Big Six" conferences.

For the master table used to create the data for this article, click here. The table gives a complete breakdown of the bowls, their scores, their participating teams, and the payout per team and per conference (sorry the print is small, but it was necessary to do that in order to get it to fit in a reasonable fashion on your computer screen).

Now, Letís take a look inside the bowls.

The Data: Payout by Bowl

Payout per Team

Bowl Game(s)

(by Conference)

$12 million

Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta

SEC (2), Big Ten (2), Big 12, PAC-10, ACC, Big East

$3.8 million


SEC, Big Ten

$2.5 million


SEC, Big 12

$1.9 million


SEC, Big Ten

$1.85 million


Big 12, PAC-10

$1.6 million



$1.4 million


ACC, Big East

$1.2 million

Alamo, Liberty

Big Ten, Big 12, C-USA, Mt. West

$1.0 million

Independence, Sun

SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, PAC-10


Aloha, Oahu

ACC, PAC-10 (2), WAC


Las Vegas, Mobile Alabama, Motor City, Music City, Humanitarian,,

SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Big East (2), C-USA (2), Mt. West (2), WAC (2), MAC, Big West

The monetary division between the Big Six conferences and the other conferences really manifests itself in this data. We all knew that the Big Six make a ton of money from the BCS bowls, but what this table shows is that the Big Six have the high-paying middle- and lower-tier bowls locked up, as well:

  1. The four BCS bowls, plus the Citrus, Cotton, Outback, and Holiday all have the top 5 paydays, from the Holidayís $1.85 million up to the BCS bowlsí $12 million. There are 16 "slots" in those eight bowls, and of those 16 slots, the SEC placed 5 teams, the Big Ten placed 4 teams, the Big 12 placed 3 teams, the PAC-10 placed 2 teams, and the ACC and Big East placed one each. Of course, non-Big Six teams did not appear in any of those eight bowls.
  2. The biggest payout for a non-Big Six team is the $1.2 million that the Liberty pays to the Conference USA and Mountain West teams in that bowl. Beyond that, no non-Big Six team takes home more than $800,000 for a bowl appearance, and most of them fall in the $750,000 range. $750k is barely enough money to make the trip to the bowl and back.

The Data: Breakdown by Conference


Number of Teams in Bowls

Total Conference Payout

Bowl Record





Big Ten




Big 12












Big East








Mountain West












Big West








When the information is presented in this fashion, a number of points jump out at you:

  1. From a monetary standpoint, the line between the "haves" and the "have-nots" is very large and very distinct. The Big Six conferences all make about $15 million or more, and below that, the dropoff is severe. The table clearly shows how valuable the BCS bid is to the Big East conference, because without it and the $12 million that come with it, the Big East brings in just $2.9 million and might as well be Conference USA. The Big East only has one more bid than C-USA but makes about 5.5 times as much money from bowls as C-USA, thanks to the BCS bid.
  2. The monetary data also point out how valuable the at-large BCS bids are to the conferences that get them. For the big twelve-team conferences, a BCS at-large bid equates to another $1 million of income per team in the conference. If, for example, Kansas State (Big 12) had gotten an at-large BCS bid instead of Michigan (Big Ten), the Big 12 and the Big Ten would essentially flip-flop in the table above in the "Total Conference Payout" column. The Big Ten would have dropped from $32.6 million to $20.6 million in bowl revenue, and the Big 12 would have jumped from $19.3 million to $31.3 million.
  3. Most conferences hovered around the .500 mark in bowl records, except for the Big Ten, which went 5-2 (after going 6-0 last year), and the PAC-10, which went 1-4 (after going 1-4 last year).

The SuperConference

One of the most interesting message board posts I ever read concerned how the rumored 64-team "SuperConference" was already a fait accompli, a "done deal," with regards to the bowls.

Of course, the SuperConference was a theory that the top 64 teams in NCAA Division 1-A football were going to break away and form their own conference, negotiating their own TV deals and bowl deals from within the structure of that conference. 64 teams was a somewhat arbitrary number and was based on the idea that it could be broken up easily into 8-team divisions, or a 8-team or 16-team playoff could be manufactured from within the structure of the conference.

The SuperConference was just a fun theory and is now a dead issue. It never came about Ö or did it? The data support the idea, that indeed, the SuperConference did come about. It just isnít calling itself that.

The Big Six conferences are comprised of 62 teams. If you include Notre Dame, which is part of the BCS contract, then the number goes up to 63 teams, which is very nearly equal to the hypothetical SuperConference number of 64.

And itís obvious from the preceding data that the Big Six take in almost all of the money paid out by the bowls. The Big Six rake in $135.4 million, and the other conferences take in a measly $9.2 million. Thatís a ratio of 14.7 to 1, or in percentage terms, 93.6%. The non-Big Six schools have been effectively cut off from the bowl money.

But itís not just that. The two factions (Big Six and non-Big Six) barely even crossover to meet on the field in the bowls. Among the 23 bowls with 46 competing teams, only one bowl featured a Big Six team playing a non-Big Six team. It was the Oahu Bowl, which featured Hawaii (WAC) vs. Oregon State (PAC-10).


The financial bowl data presented here points out in no uncertain terms how fortunate the Hokies are to be in one of the Big Six conferences. I donít see how the non-Big Six conferences and the teams in them can ever make any long-term headway, given the financial mountains they have to climb when compared to the BCS-rich competition.

Since 1995, the Hokies have raked in an estimated $14 million from their BCS bowl appearances alone. The payouts in the 1995 Sugar Bowl and 1996 Orange Bowl were around $8 million apiece, of which Tech got to keep $4 million each year (a total of $8 million over those two years). Since then (the days of the "Bowl Alliance"), the payments from the BCS bowls have gone up to $12 million, of which the Hokies got to keep $6 million this year.

The Big East has a very generous revenue sharing plan that heavily rewards the teams that actually go to the bowls. Most conferences split all bowl money equally among the conference members, but the Big East, as mentioned, greatly rewards the teams that appear in the bowls.

Add in the 1997 Gator Bowl and 1998 Music City Bowl appearances, which weíll estimate at about $2.3 million total, and you get a figure of $16.3 million over five years that the Hokies have earned in bowl money.

Think about that: $16.3 million over five years. Thatís nearly $3.3 million per year in bowl money that has flowed into the Hokie football coffers. Thatís more money per year than the entire Conference USA makes.

Yep, itís not just the 2000 Sugar Bowl thatís been sweet to the Hokies.

Will Stewart is the founder and General Manager of  He writes the News and Notes section, game previews, and game reports for HC, and he contributes a column when time permits.


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