Hlas column: Iowa's Insight profit may be deceiving

Members of Iowa's 651-person traveling party at the Insight Bowl (Cliff Jette/SourceMedia)
Members of Iowa's 651-person traveling party at the Insight Bowl (Cliff Jette/SourceMedia)

You have to tip your hat to the University of Iowa, which made more of a profit on its bowl-game trip last season than any other school in the country.

At least that’s what the figure Iowa gave the public last week suggests. Iowa announced a surplus of $382,500 for its Insight Bowl trip. Of all the reports issued thus far from other schools that went to bowls in the 2010 season, no one else cleared as much.

Auburn and Oregon lost a combined $900,000 for their participation in the BCS Championship Game despite selling all their tickets. But Iowa, which had 6,745 unsold tickets among the 11,000 it was required to buy from the Insight Bowl, made out better than anyone? Really?

Did the Insight Bowl have cheaper tickets than any other bowl? No.

Was Iowa’s traveling party of 651 people significantly smaller than those of most other bowl-participants? No.

Were the Hawkeyes housed in a budget motel instead of something quite a bit more luxurious? No.

Did Iowa not include the cost of the tickets absorbed by the Big Ten on its reports to the NCAA while every other Big Ten school did? Yes. In Iowa’s case, that amounted to $361,171.

Being part of the Big Ten, which has a very good safety blanket for its members when it comes to bowl trips, is the primary reason Iowa didn’t take a bath. That’s because all the league members eat a one-11th (soon to be one-twelfth) slice of every unsold ticket.

Thus, Iowa’s one-eleventh share of its 6,745 unsold tickets was a paltry $32,833. Iowa assistant director of athletics for business operations Mick Walker said that total isn’t included in Iowa’s bowl-expense report.

Nor are Iowa’s one-eleventh tabs for everyone else’s unsold bowl tickets. For instance, Illinois had 8,424 “absorbed tickets” at the Texas Bowl. Michigan had 7,265 at the Gator Bowl.

Tens of thousands of dollars here, tens of thousands there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

Speaking of real money, the bonuses Iowa paid to its coaching staff for getting to a postseason game totaled $494,861. That figure isn’t part of the bowl-expense report, either, though it sure devours a surplus in one big gulp.

Iowa paid Arkansas State $900,000 to play at Iowa in 2009. Arkansas State’s travel party, certainly not 651 strong, came to Iowa the day before the game and returned the night of the game. Now that’s a surplus.

So was the $1 million Iowa got for playing Northern Illinois in Chicago in 2007. That same matchup will be held at the same site in 2012, and with good financial reason.

The people who make all the money from the bowls, however, are the bowls. And they make a lot, due largely to their mandatory allotments of tickets to the schools. Many of those seats, by the way, often aren’t among the best in the stadiums, so savvy fans shop around.

The Insight Bowl is run by the Fiesta Bowl. It’s been well-documented what kind of financial shenanigans that outfit has pulled over the years. Some of the money that could have gone to the schools instead went from bowl honchos to exotic dancers named Destiny and Delicious.

That bowl and most others have done very well for themselves. The schools that participate? Not so much.

Had Iowa and Missouri scheduled their own game against each other in Phoenix, rented a stadium, sold the tickets, and arrived in Arizona two days before the game instead of eight or nine, the profits would probably have been huge. Boise State, after all, got $1.25 million to play Virginia Tech in suburban Washington, D.C. last September.

Two schools couldn’t schedule a postseason game on just three or four weeks notice, of course. But what’s to stop college football from taking ownership in the postseason instead of continuing to accept the current, tilted arrangement? Never mind a playoff, just start getting a fair share in the bowls’ profits.

There are reasons the bowls have wined and dined athletic directors and coaches over the years in the off-season. Last June, the Orange Bowl had a four-day “complimentary getaway” for athletic directors, conference commissioners and their spouses in the form of a Royal Caribbean cruise to the Bahamas. It was a group of about 80 people.I guess when you take care of your buddies, they’re a lot less likely to rock the boat.

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