Thursday, April 17, 2014
ORONO — Playing for college football’s national championship is worth $18 million to each team. Advancing to basketball’s Final Four means $9.5 million to a school’s conference.
Maine fans celebrate in the second half of an NCAA football game against Delaware in Orono on Oct. 5. In this year’s five regular-season home games, all victories, Maine drew an average crowd of 5,533.
2013 Associated Press file photos
So what’s at stake, financially, for the University of Maine on Saturday when its football team hosts an NCAA playoff game for the first time in school history?
“There’s clearly a lot of benefits to advancing in the playoffs and winning the games,” said Steve Metcalf, deputy athletic director at the University of New Hampshire, UMaine’s opponent and a tournament team for a best-in-the-nation 10th straight year. “It does great things for the university and the athletic department and the football team … but there are no similarities between this and the bowl games” – those post-season appearances reserved for so-called BCS schools with 85 scholarship players, 22 more than teams in Maine’s category.
Last month the Black Bears (10-2) wrapped up their first outright conference title since 1965. They earned the No. 5 seed and a first-round bye in the 24-team Football Championship Subdivision national tournament.
Playing rival New Hampshire (8-4) at Alfond Stadium could benefit the university financially if ticket sales (more 5,500 had been sold before Friday) cover the $30,000 due to the NCAA for the right to host the game.
In any case, Maine’s post-season run – even if it continues all the way to a national championship game on Jan. 4 in Frisco, Texas – likely will help entice alumni to increase donations, improve the school’s reputation and be used as a recruiting tool. But it is unlikely to produce a huge windfall for the school’s athletic budget.
To understand why, it’s important to first understand the two tiers of Division I college football. The top tier is called the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and includes programs such as Alabama, which spent $41.6 million in the 2011 season, the most recent available on the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity in Athletics Disclosure website, and brought in $88.7 million.
The second tier is called the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). It consists of Maine and about 120 other schools, only four of which reported a financial surplus from the 2011 season. And even then “those numbers are pretty small,” said Dan Fulks, an NCAA research consultant and professor of accounting at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky. “The average profit was $200,000. The average football loss is $2 million.”
Fulks studied the revenues and expenses from all NCAA Division I athletic programs between 2004 and 2012 and produced a report of more than 100 pages filled with tables and broken into tiers (FBS, FCS and schools without football), sports and genders. Among his takeaways: Not one FCS athletic program ran a surplus and most FBS programs – except those involved in the five big-money BCS bowls with payouts of $17 million-$18 million – actually lose money by going to a bowl game.
‘AN EXTRA HOME GAME’
The only time Maine took part in a bowl game was in 1965, when the Yankee Conference championship squad faced East Carolina in the Tangerine Bowl and lost 31-0 in Orlando, Fla. The Tangerine Bowl eventually morphed into the Florida Citrus Bowl before becoming the Capital One Bowl, which is now played on New Year’s Day and cut checks of $4.55 million to each of its 2013 participants, Georgia and Nebraska.
That’s more than Maine spends on its entire annual football operation, including all coaching salaries and all 63 scholarship equivalencies.
Instead of post-season bowls, FCS schools take part in a playoff system with only the championship game played at a neutral site.
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Maine fans take their seats before the Delaware game. Advance ticket sales for Saturday’s game have already surpassed the average crowd for home games this season.