HONOLULU - The Arizona State football team has arrived in paradise to enjoy the rewards of qualifying for a bowl game where there is surf and sand.
While the destination rewards are great — the most plentiful in the college bowl business — the financial impact is the equivalent of a lump of coal in an athletic department’s fiscal stocking.
Anyone who has budgeted a Hawaiian vacation for their family is aware of the costs. Apply that task for the traveling party of a Division I-A football team, and you have some very challenging numbers crunching.
“The Hawaii Bowl is a great destination (and) fun for the players, but it’s a huge money loser,” ASU coach Dirk Koetter said. “You have to do the math. The school that goes there wants to reward its players as best it can, but this bowl is a money loser.
“All you have to do is take a few minutes to look into the finances of it, and you’d find that out.”
Outside of the big-money Bowl Championship Series games, many bowls result in financial losses for their participants. A USA Today study in 2000 revealed at least 18 schools came home from the postseason with a deficit.
Amy Schramm, associate athletic director of finance, estimates the school will lose $135,000 on the Hawaii Bowl trip. That shortcoming will have to be made up by cutting costs elsewhere in the athletic department’s general budget before the school year ends.
Even in an athletic department with an annual budget in the neighborhood of $40 million, as ASU’s is, a $135,000 loss is nothing to brush off. With the $2.4-million contract buyout owed Koetter and the signing of new coach Dennis Erickson, it is already an expensive spring semester for the Sun Devils.
“We’re working on it right now,” Schramm said. “We have to look at our operating budget and see what we’ve done in the past. There are places we can cut costs — administrative budget, media relations, ticket office. Is there something small, where we can pull a thousand dollars here and there to help make up for this overage? Is there any fund raising we can do?”
ASU participated in the 1999 and 2000 Aloha Bowls in Honolulu, losing about $70,000 on each game.
For Schramm and her fellow Sun Devil money stewards, the last two years have provided opposite ends of the spectrum in bowl trips.
Last year, ASU “traveled” to downtown Phoenix for the Insight Bowl at Chase Field. For a school that tries to be frugal on bowl trips, turning a profit was easy, and the Sun Devils finished $110,000 in the black.
ASU made money on two other recent bowl trips, the 2002 Holiday Bowl in San Diego ($200,560) and 2004 Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas ($61,400).
The extra 3,000 miles for a trip to Honolulu ensures that most of the Hawaii Bowl’s $389,000 payout — the NCAA no longer requires a minimum bowl payment of $750,000 — will be eaten by travel costs. The Sun Devils’ charter consisting of essential football personnel and their families costs $330,000.
“We know that we have to make it work,” Schramm said. “The most important things is the opportunity for the players. They get to play in the bowl and get the experience and visit a place like Hawaii. When you keep that in mind, you know you want to make it work for them.”
To help offset expenses, the Pac-10 has given ASU a $300,000 subsidy, money that will be taken out of the conference’s total bowl revenue. Also, the Hawaii Bowl is requiring ASU to sell only 1,200 tickets, compared to thousands more in previous years.
“The philosophy is that we don’t want any of our institutions to take a bath financially for playing in a bowl game,” Pac-10 spokesman Jim Muldoon said. “The things you have to look at is the bowl payout and the ticket requirement. If you look at it from a gross revenue standpoint, it’s really not that bad.”
The Pac-10 is in a two-year deal with ESPN, which owns the Hawaii and Armed Forces bowls. The conference’s No. 6 bowl slot is in the Hawaii Bowl this year and the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2007.
“We have a two-year option to renew that deal for another cycle,” Muldoon said. “Since we had deals with previous bowl games in Hawaii, we went into this one with our eyes wide open, from a financial standpoint. I’m optimistic about it.
“The organizers with this Hawaii Bowl seem to have it a lot more together than the previous bowl did, and the involvement with ESPN gives a lot of stability.”
With payments for many lower-tier bowls staying stagnant or declining, the budget challenges of a bowl trip figure to get no easier in the future. However, schools have determined the exposure and recruiting benefits of playing in a bowl game are worth the expense.
“All the commissioners of the conferences are fighting for bowl slots for their teams,” Koetter said. “There’s a reason for that. If we weren’t going to Hawaii, some other school gladly would.”