Thanks to the College Football Playoff, bowl games paid more than a half billion dollars to conferences and schools last season, the largest payout ever and an increase of almost $200 million from the final season of the Bowl Championship Series.
According to an NCAA report released Tuesday, the 39 postseason FBS games distributed $505.9 million to the participating conferences and schools. The schools spent $100.2 million to take part in bowl games.
The revenue figures were reported by the bowls and the College Football Playoff to the NCAA and the schools supplied expense reports for participation, said Damani Leech, the NCAA's managing director, championships and alliances.
Total payouts from 35 postseason games from the 2013-14 season were $309.9 million while schools spent $97.8 million to participate. For the 2012-13 season, payouts were $300.8 million and expenses were $90.3 million.
"The largest portion of that increase in revenue distribution in year over year can be directly attributed to the College Football Playoff," Leech said. "While there were four additional postseason bowl games last year versus the previous year that's, relatively speaking, immaterial."
The College Football Playoff replaced the BCS last season. The playoff matched the four top teams in the nation, as selected by a selection committee, in two bowl semifinals with the winners playing for the national title. The BCS paired the top two teams in country as chosen by polls and computer rating in a national championship game.
ESPN pays the College Football Playoff about $470 million a year for the media rights to the three playoff games and four other bowls and most of the money is distributed to the 10 FBS conferences and schools. The conference commissioners who created the College Football Playoff considered holding the semifinals at campus venues, but ultimately decided to work within the bowl system.
"The overall health of the bowl systems is so important to our game because of the opportunities it creates for student-athletes," College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock said.
The final BCS TV deal was worth about $180 million per year to the conferences.
The increase in revenue comes at a time when running a major college athletic program is becoming more costly. All FBS conferences are planning to raise the value of an athletic scholarship by several thousand dollars to cover the full cost of attendance. The NCAA also now allows schools to pay for meals for athletes, and more costly reforms are in the works.
"It couldn't have come at a better time," Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said of the 63 percent increase in postseason revenue. "Every athletic department is being challenged with a cost of attendance issue. For there to be a significant spike in football bowl and College Football Playoff money at least gives our athletic directors some breathing rooms with business decisions they need to make."
The NCAA postseason bowl certification report also includes a survey of 243 players, 23 head coaches and 40 athletic administrators to gauge level of satisfaction with the bowls. The report said 34 percent of those responding were extremely satisfied with the bowl experience, 48 percent were very satisfied and 15 percent were moderately satisfied. In 2013, only 19 percent of respondents said they were extremely satisfied and 34 percent they were moderately satisfied.
Leech said it was that feedback more than the finances that suggest the bowl system is healthy.
"Here's what the student-athletes and the coaches and administrators are saying about their experience and it is by and large positive," Leech said. "That to me is probably the most salient point."
The report says to expect more bowls next season. The Cure Bowl in Orlando was approved last season but delayed its starting date. Little Rock, Arkansas, Tucson, Arizona, and Austin, Texas, are also hoping to be certified, which could make 43 postseason games that need 84 teams — eight more than last season.
Five teams that were bowl eligible last season didn't play in the postseason, which doesn't include Georgia Southern. The Eagles won nine games in their first season playing in FBS, but were not eligible for postseason play due to NCAA rules regarding transition years. Appalachian State and Old Dominion also become postseason eligible this season.
FBS members need to adopt new legislation this summer setting up safety nets to fill bowl spots if not enough teams reach eligibility, which generally means at least a .500 record.
The current NCAA safety-net bylaw runs out in August and includes provisions for allowing teams to participate in bowls games with two victories against FCS teams and during transition years.
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