College Football Playoff Likely To Preserve ‘Status Quo’ Of Bowl Games Dodging Millions In Taxes

The day college football fans have craved is possibly on its way, as representatives from the six major college football conferences met with Bowl Championship Series (BCS) officials this week to discuss and propose different scenarios to end the season with a four-team playoff instead of a single championship game.

To nearly every college football fan, the idea of deciding the sport’s champion with an end-of-season playoff is welcome news, even if details of a specific playoff plan aren’t yet clear. What is clear, though, is that major changes are on the way, as BCS executive director Bill Hancock told the Associated Press after yesterday’s meeting:

“Status quo is not on the table,” BCS executive director Bill Hancock said.

The status quo, on the field at least, appears to be changing. But allowing the BCS, an organization that dodges millions of dollars in taxes and has been the subject of multiple investigations, to stay in the picture would keep the most dangerous status quo intact.


The five BCS bowls — the Fiesta, Rose, Orange, and Sugar bowls plus the BCS National Championship game — generate millions in tax-free profits each year. In 2007, when New Orleans hosted both the Sugar Bowl and the National Championship, the games generated $34.2 million in revenue and $11.6 million in tax-free profits. The games often depend on taxpayer financing — the Sugar Bowl has taken $11 million in public subsidies since 1999; the Fiesta Bowl will receive $6.45 million through 2013 — and rely on the participation of taxpayer-funded universities, many of which lose money by participating.

The BCS bowls avoid paying taxes because they classify themselves as charities. But they give little money back to the communities that host them (just $4 million from more than $261 million in revenue in 2009) and pay their CEOs lavish salaries. The average salary for CEOs who run the games has doubled to more than $500,000 since 1999, pay that ranks the bowls in the top 2 percent among nonprofits with similar budgets and in the top 9 percent among nonprofits with budgets twice their size, according to the Arizona Republic.

The bowls, in some ways, have come to resemble America’s corporate structure: huge profits, high executive pay, and few, if any, taxes paid to the government. College football may change the status quo on the field, but until it steps away from the BCS structure, it won’t ever have a chance to change the status quo of bilking taxpayers to fund its biggest games.