Price of prestige

Published January 12, 2006

TAMPA - USF spent more than $1-million on its first ever bowl trip and projects a profit in the ballpark of $82,000.

The Bulls' largest expense was paying for about $380,000 in unsold tickets because it had to guarantee 12,500 tickets for the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 31 in Charlotte, N.C. When sales totaled about 6,200, the school had to purchase the rest.

USF received $1.1-million from the Big East for appearing in the bowl. All bowl and television revenues are pooled and shared by conference members. The schools that appear in the games receive a supplement toward expenses.

Final expense reports aren't in, but USF expects most to come in about as budgeted, said Rick Costello, the athletic department's chief financial officer.

N.C. State, which beat USF 14-0 in the game, also spent about $1-million, despite selling its full ticket allotment and not needing to charter flights, two expenses that consumed more than half of USF's budget.

"It's expensive to travel for that long with such a large group of people, but we had three core values we wanted for the bowl," USF athletic director Doug Woolard said. "We wanted as good an experience as possible for the players and coaches. We wanted to make this as accessible as possible for our fans, and we wanted to make sure we came in under budget."

The tickets were budgeted as a $400,000 expense, and by comparison, the total cost of air and bus travel, housing and six days of meals in Charlotte for USF's bowl contingent of 96 players, 47 coaches and other personnel and 29 bowl support staff was budgeted at $410,000.

The Bulls are only able to turn a profit because of the league's supplement. The bowl paid $750,000, but the Big East provides a higher payout from its bowl pool.

"One of the reasons why we supplement the bowl payouts is to help ensure that schools aren't overly concerned about the finances of their trip," said John Paquette, the Big East's associate commissioner for communications.

In addition to the bowl supplements, the Big East pays each of the eight football-playing schools $2-million from the league's pool of bowl and television revenue.

The Bulls' bowl committee first met in October, and Woolard appointed Costello as the head.

"It was quite a learning experience for everyone in the department," said Costello, thumbing through a bulging three-ring binder that was USF's "bowl Bible." "The amount of work that was involved ... we talked to Florida, Florida State, Central Florida, just to see how they would handle the things that would pop up."

There are tiny expenses that can add up: $2,500 for a police escort for team buses, $1,000 for laundry service in Charlotte, $3,500 to rent a high school field for game-week practices, $400 for sideline heaters at the stadium and even $300 for ice and water.

To feed 96 players and the team's coaches and personnel, USF budgeted $50,000, and even if you include the other 76 members of the athletic contingent, that works out to $48 per person per day. The Bulls also had to transport, house and feed a combined

260 students from the Herd of Thunder marching band, cheerleaders and the Sun Dolls dancers.

There are unexpected expenses. Because USF typically closes its campus housing during the holiday break, the budget included $5,000 for housing in Tampa since dormitories were specifically opened for players, as well as the band and spirit squads.

"If you saw the pep rally or the luncheon, the total support and impression that we left N.C. State and the Meineke bowl staff and the city of Charlotte with was tremendous," Costello said.

The NCAA allows players participating in a bowl to have a $20 per diem for incidental expenses. USF budgeted the maximum allowed by the NCAA - $350 per player - for bowl awards such as warmups, shirts, plaques and commemorative rings. Coach Jim Leavitt and his assistants earned $100,000 in bonuses for playing in a bowl game.

Because the bowl schedule calls for players to make a second trip home over the holiday break, the NCAA allows schools to reimburse players for their round-trip mileage. USF reimbursed players at 29 cents per mile, and budgeted $10,000 to cover mileage.

N.C. State, which beat the Bulls 14-0 in Charlotte, had a nearly identical total budget of $1-million, yet the school's relative proximity allowed them to avoid the cost of a chartered flight, and the Wolfpack sold its full allotment, eliminating two costs that represented more than half of USF's total expenses.

For the Bulls, the Charlotte trip was an important first step as a young football program. They're optimistic that improved ticket sales will help the financial impact of USF's next bowl game.

"We can definitely make some improvements next time around, but overall, I think it gave us a very favorable impression," Costello said. "The ticket expense, as we continue to grow, that will go away, and that will help the bottom line."