College Football’s Money Bowls

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December 30, 2010; Source: Time | Who would have ever thought of the college football bowls – or the organizations that run them – as nonprofits? How about nonprofits with CEOs that rake in upwards of $600,000 a year?

There are now 35 bowl games with commercial sponsors such as Chick-fil-A (Peach Bowl), Little Caesars Pizza (Motor City Bowl),, Beef O'Brady's, Meinecke Car Care, Papa John's, Auto Zone (Liberty Bowl), Hyundai (Sun Bowl), Outback, Tostitos (Fiesta Bowl), AT&T (Cotton Bowl), Allstate (Sugar Bowl), Discover Card (Orange Bowl), VIZIO (Rose Bowl), Northrop Grumman (Military Bowl), and yes, that icon of college football, Franklin American Mortgage (Music City Bowl).

We do miss the famous WeedEaters Bowl, which has passed into oblivion. The bowl games list doesn't exactly exude nonprofitness, but according to Time magazine, many of the bowl organizations are nonprofits – and they pay their CEOs exceptionally well for their nonprofit service. Some examples include Paul Hoolahan of the Sugar Bowl at $645,386, John Junker of the Fiesta Bowl at $592,418, Rick Baker of the Cotton Bowl taking home $490,433, Derrick Fox of the Alamo Bowl earning $438,044, and the head of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl fighting his own hunger with a salary of $320,492.

The funny part of the story, if there is one, is that the salaries are justified under IRS rules by comparison with each other; the bowl execs' huge compensation levels are in line with other bowl execs’ huge compensation. Whether one believes in high salaries for nonprofit execs or not, there is something wrong with these bowl execs' salaries – because these bowls are high in the execs' salaries but low on the nonprofitness scale.

BusinessWeek's review of the bowl games called them "over-commercialized." There may be charities that get contributions from the funds raised by the bowl games, but the first item listed as a major benefit of bowl games on is "millions of advertising dollars."

In another article, the headline for the bowl games was, "The Business of Bowl Games: It’s All About Money." Maybe no one remembers, but during the 2008 presidential campaign, candidates Barack Obama and John McCain called for reforming the bowl games. The Time article ought to spark thoughts of bipartisan legislative action.—Rick Cohen

  • David Cearley

    To say nothing ofvthe athletes risking their bodies and possible football careers working for free. The schools get millions, and it’s a scandal if a player gets a hundred dollar gift from an alumnus. What a farce.

  • KingmanIII

    “We do miss the famous WeedEaters Bowl, which has passed into oblivion.”

    The game was previously known as the Independence Bowl and reverted back to its original name after Poulan’s naming rights sponsorship expired. The game is now sponsored by Advocare.