Inside the Numbers: Bowl Payouts
by Will Stewart,
TSL Extra, Issue #14

This season, there are 25 bowls paying out a total of $147,140,000. That's nearly $150 million to spread around 50 teams. But when you start digging into what teams from which conferences get all that money, you quickly discover to no one's surprise, that the rich are getting richer in the bowl system.

This month in "Inside the Numbers," we'll break down the bowl payouts and tell you where all the money goes. We did this same analysis two years ago, after the Hokies' run at the 1999 national championship, and we found that two years later, nothing much has changed. There are two new bowls that boost the total payout slightly, but it's still the haves -- namely the BCS teams and conferences -- and the have-nots.

First, let's define our terms: the BCS conferences are, of course, the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, PAC 10, and SEC. The non-BCS conferences are everyone else: Conference USA (CUSA), the Mountain West, the WAC, the MAC, and the Sun Belt. Those are the only conferences that are tied into bowls.

Note that per-team payouts are not really the dollar amounts that go to each team. Bowl money goes to the conferences, and then the conferences distribute the money to their members as they see fit. In most of the BCS conferences, the total bowl money brought in by a conference is distributed evenly amongst all the teams in the conference. This is not the case in the Big East and the SEC, where participating teams are rewarded more handsomely.

The ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and PAC 10 split revenues equally among all members. The Big East splits the revenues equally among all members after deducting "participation" allowances, which are based on conference standings. The Big East conference champion, which participates in a BCS bowl, has a $4 million "allowance." Second place has an allowance of $1.8 million, third place $1.65 million, and so on through all their bowl tie-ins.

The SEC isn't quite as generous to participating teams, although it does split revenue based on a formula where participating members receive a larger share based on the bowl payout. Non-participating members split the balance.

Another little nugget about the BCS is that in addition to the big money that it pays out to the BCS conferences, it also pays out about $5 million per year to non-BCS conferences. In 2000, the WAC, Mountain West, and Conference USA each got $800,000 from the BCS. The MAC got $600,000, and the Big West received $300,000. Eight non-BCS Division 1AA conferences received another $1.2 million ($150,000 apiece).

Note that for purposes of this analysis, we'll assume the BCS payouts to non-BCS conferences are the same for 2001 as they were for 2000. We'll also assume that the Sun Belt, which didn't get a payment last year, will receive $300,000, like the Big West did last year.

A Little-Known Fact About BCS Payouts

The BCS bowl (Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, and Orange) payouts are defined as $11.67 million per team. This year, the Big 12 and SEC have two BCS teams each, so you would think the payouts would go like this:

Big 12 and SEC: 2 x $11.78 million = $23.56 million

Other BCS conferences = $11.78 million

Total BCS payout = 8 x $11.78 million = $94.24 million

But there's a little-known wrinkle in how the BCS distributes the money. In order to keep the two-team conferences from profiting so much in comparison to the one-team conferences, this rule is invoked (from the BCS web site):

This coming season, BCS participants will receive between $11.78-14.67 million depending on the conference affiliation of the at-large participants. Should the at-large participants come from outside the original BCS conferences -- ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC 10 or SEC -- those participants will receive $11.78 million. If one or both at-large selections come from within the original BCS group, the first conference participant shall receive $11.78 million and the second participant from that same conference shall receive $6 million. The remaining dollars (the difference between $11.78 million and $6 million) will be split among the originating BCS conferences that have just one participant.

What that means is this: Each conference gets $11.78 million to start. Since the Big 12 and SEC have two teams, they each get an additional $6 million (for $17.78 million total), and another $11.56 million ($5.78 million times two) is distributed to the other four conferences, giving them $14.67 million each:

SEC and Big 12: $17.78 million

Other BCS conferences = $14.67 million

You can see that a split of $17.78 million versus $14.67 million is much more equitable than $23.56 million versus $11.78 million.

The Data: Payout by Bowl

Having said all that, let's get started.

For a complete list of bowls, their payouts, and participating teams, click here.

From a money standpoint, if you want to take a quick snapshot of the bowls and their payouts, here it is:

Per-team payout

# of bowls



$1.0-$1.8 million


$2.0-$2.2 million


$4.25 million


$11.78 million (BCS)


Total Bowls


The growth in the number of bowls in recent years has all been at the bottom end, the $750k bowls ($750,000 is the minimum payout required by the NCAA to certify a bowl). If you look at the $1 million bowls and up, you see the familiar names: Independence Bowl, Sun Bowl, Gator Bowl, Peach Bowl, Citrus Bowl, etc.

If you look at the bottom end, you see the Johnny-come-latelies: New Orleans Bowl, Tangerine Bowl, Seattle Bowl, Bowl, Motor City Bowl, Silicon Valley Classic, etc.

And if you look at bottom end, you see the non-BCS conferences: WAC, MAC, Sun Belt, CUSA, and Mountain West. If you look at the upper end bowls ($1 million and up), you see the power BCS conferences: SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, etc.

Take a look at this table, which clearly shows that the power conferences get the big-money bowls.

Bowl Payout

# of

# of Bowl Teams by Conference



Sun Belt (1), Mt. West (2), MAC (2),
WAC (2), CUSA (3)
, ACC (3), Big East (3),
PAC 10 (2), Big 12 (2), Big Ten (1), SEC (1)

$1.0-$1.8 million


Big 12 (2), SEC (2), PAC 10 (1), Big Ten (2),
Mt. West (1), CUSA (1), Big East (1), ACC (2)

$2.0-$4.25 million


Big 12 (2), SEC (3), PAC 10 (1), Big Ten (2)

$11.78 million (BCS)


Big 12 (2), SEC (2), PAC 10 (1), Big Ten (1),
ACC (1), Big East (1)

Note: non-BCS conference teams italicized

You quickly note that once the payouts get above $800,000, the non-BCS teams disappear. The one exception is the Liberty Bowl, which pays $1.3 million per team and pits the Conference USA champion against the Mountain West champion (which is an excellent matchup this year, featuring 12-1 Brigham Young against 10-2 Louisville).

But other than the Liberty Bowl, non-BCS teams usually earn just $750,000 for playing a bowl.

BCS Conferences Versus Non-BCS Conferences

Let's take a look at the total and per-team payouts that go to each conference.

Conference Revenue from Bowls




Per Bowl

Total #
of Teams in










































































* Important note: Total Payout for non-BCS conferences also includes BCS money: $800k apiece for CUSA, the Mountain West, and the WAC; $600k for the MAC, and $300k for the Sun Belt.

Here are some items worth noting:

  • The BCS conferences receive $136,990,000 of the $150,440,000 handed out. That's 91% of the total bowl money.
  • The total payout of $150,440,000 shown in the table exceeds the actual bowl payout of $147,140,000 quoted earlier (a $3.3 million difference) because the BCS organization distributes money to non-BCS conferences. This money, which totals $3.3 million for the conferences shown, is not "bowl payout" money per se but should be included when calculating the total revenue from bowls.
  • The edge that the SEC and Big 12 have over other BCS conferences is due, of course, to the fact that they have 2 BCS teams each.
  • The Big East is 6th among the 6 BCS conferences in terms of total payout, but they're 2nd in payout per conference team -- thanks to the fact that the Big East only has 8 teams, the fewest of the BCS conferences. I think it's fascinating that even with three $750k bowls, the Big East's per-team take is second only to the SEC, thanks to the BCS money distribution among just 8 Big East teams.
  • This table verifies through hard data what we already knew: the BCS conferences are making a boatload more from the bowl system than the non-BCS conferences. The BCS conferences take home roughly $14 for every $1 that the non-BCS conferences do.

And Within the BCS Conferences, the Rich Get Richer

Within the-rich-get-richer scenario of the BCS versus non-BCS conferences, there is a rich-get-richer subplot going on right within the BCS conferences. Namely, the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and PAC 10 are getting richer, but the ACC and Big East are not.

In the four years the BCS has been in existence, the BCS bowl invitations extended to the conferences have gone thus:

BCS Bids, 1998-2001


BCS Bids



Big Ten


Big 12


PAC 10




Big East


Notre Dame


The ACC and Big East have never had an at-large team selected for a BCS bowl � and it may never happen, either. You can see that the SEC has had two teams selected for BCS bowls almost every year, and the Big Ten is right behind them, averaging two teams every other year. The Big 12, PAC 10, and Notre Dame have picked up the three at-large bids in four years that the SEC and Big Ten have not taken up.

In short, out of 8 at-large bids, the SEC and Big Ten have had 5 of them.

In 1997, a very deserving North Carolina team, ranked #5 in the country, was passed over for a big bowl (okay, that was pre-BCS days, but you get my point). The at-large bids that year went to Kansas State (ranked #9) and Ohio State (ranked #10).

In 2000, a very deserving VT team, ranked #5 in the country and #5 in the BCS, was passed over for Notre Dame (ranked #10 and #11 in the BCS) in the Fiesta Bowl.

The snub of ACC and Big East teams in favor of teams from the other BCS conferences and yes, Notre Dame, is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, particularly in years where Florida State wins the ACC and Miami wins the Big East. The ACC and Big East are included in the BCS scenario primarily because FSU and Miami, two of college football's glamour teams, are in those conferences. Once you get beyond FSU and Miami, the college football power structure, which centers on traditional powers from the other four BCS conferences, doesn't have much use for the Big East and ACC.

The only way the ACC or Big East will ever likely get two bids is if FSU and/or Miami loses the conference championship but is very highly ranked at the end of the season (for instance, VT goes 11-0 and Miami goes 10-1, with the only loss coming to VT). In that case, the BCS will be forced to take the ACC and/or Big East champion, and might pick FSU or Miami at large.

But if you're waiting for the BCS to pick an at-large team from the ACC or Big East that is not FSU or Miami, then you'll be waiting for a long time. Last year, they passed up the #5 team in the country (VT) with one of the most exciting players ever in college football (Michael Vick).

The point is, that $14.67 million figure that you see next to the ACC and Big East's BCS bowl revenue this year is likely to always stay at that number. The $17.78 million figure that the Big 12 and SEC are enjoying this year is likely to get passed around between them, the Big Ten, and the PAC 10.

The Data

You can download the bowl payout data and view it, either as a web page, or as a Microsoft Excel 97 spreadsheet.

To download the data yourself in Microsoft Excel 97 spreadsheet format, head to this link:

(Right-click the link and do a "Save Link As" or "Save Target As" to save the Excel file to disk.)



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