Yesterday was bowl selection day for the NCAA College Football teams across the United States. Teams who won half their games (or others who receive special exemptions despite losing records) are all eligible to play in bowl games. While much of America was screaming at the Orange Bowl for having Northern Illinois University (NIU) playing in a Bowl Championship Series (BCS) game, a few individuals were very unhappy that Louisiana Tech was not going to a bowl game. It was not a matter of record (the team went 9-3) or that they didn’t get an invite to a game (the Independence Bowl offered), but that the athletic department was indecisive when trying to figure out whether to accept the invite.
The bowl business is tricky stuff, and La Tech was thinking they were going to some specific bowl games coming into the weekend. Then Northern Illinois finished 16th in the BCS rankings and won an automatic bid to the Rose Bowl, kicking Oklahoma out of the BCS. This shift cause other bowls to shift who they were inviting, and soon La Tech found themselves with only an invite from the Independence Bowl. It is not that the Independence Bowl is a bad game to play in, but that the payout the athletic department would receive would be around $1,100,000. While that seems to be a good chunk of change, the bowls that La Tech thought they were in the running for had payouts around $100,000 to $200,000 higher. While this seems like a small amount in the age of athletic departments spending tens of millions of dollars on football, I think La Tech had good reason to hesitate.
The bowl game system is one which invites teams from across the country to travel long distances and stay many days (teams travel, practice, have some fun events, play the game, then go home). Most schools also bring donors, alumni, students, the marching band, athletic department staff, and university staff and administrators to the game. Think about the bill for hundreds of people having to travel, stay in hotels, food, drinks, banquets, tailgates, events, and all of the sudden you are running a pretty high bill. Couple this with the fact that some bowl games require schools to make a revenue guarantee in regards to the amount of revenue generated by fans purchasing tickets, and bowl games can quickly become a losing situation for many athletic departments. In other words, bowl games are a “winners curse” for some.
So did La Tech do the right thing? I think so. It is better, in my opinion, for an athletic department to take their time and make the right decision, than make a poor one which would put them in the red. La Tech’s most famous alumni Karl Malone, a former NBA superstar, was not happy. Mr. Malone took to twitter and lambasted the school and its athletic department for not landing in a bowl game. I can understand Malone’s anger as those who are punished by this are the student-athletes who earned the chance to a bowl game, but are now not going anywhere. Malone suggested that not going to a bowl game is “exactly what is wrong with our university”.
I disagree Mr. Malone. The athletic department was weighing their options carefully. Is it a disappointment? Yes it is, but it does not hint at a bigger systematic issue with the university and the athletic department.