No bowl game in college football pays more money to one person than the Outback Bowl in Tampa Bay.
His name is Jim McVay, the game’s president and chief executive officer.
According to tax forms, the bowl paid McVay $753,946 in fiscal year 2010, $693,212 in 2009 and $808,032 in 2008. His pay has nearly doubled since 2002, when he earned $404,253. This year, his game matches Michigan (8-4) and South Carolina (10-2) on Jan. 1.
“He’s done a fabulous job,” says Mike Schulze, a spokesman for the game. “It’s about being fairly compensated based on what the market dictates.”
It’s a payday market that’s gotten especially hot the past 10 years. A bowl boss’ average compensation last year was $438,000, more than double since 2002 and 32% more than 2006, according to tax forms for 15 of the oldest nonprofit bowl organizations.
Even second-tier games such as the Gator Bowl and Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl pay their executives at least $375,000.
The bowls say their salaries are set according to the job and the market. But critics and others have continued to raise concerns about such pay being excessive for a number of reasons, including where the bowls get their revenue and how their salaries are determined.
Most bowl games are tax-exempt charitable organizations that in most cases stage one game per year. They’re also heavily subsidized by participating teams and conferences that combined to pay the bowl games $20.9 million last season for unsold tickets, according to documents obtained by USA TODAY Sports.
With the first of 35 bowls kicking off Saturday Dec. 15, USA TODAY Sports examined dozens of the bowls’ tax filings over the past 10 years to compile a list and explore how these tax-exempt bowls set their pay packages. The filings show that many bowl games have used a survey of each other’s pay to help adjust their own pay scale — a practice that can create a self-perpetuating cycle of bigger and bigger paychecks.
Bowl boss salaries are “skewed,” says Richard Southall, director of the College Sport Research Institute at North Carolina.
Another new bowl game, the Heart of Dallas Bowl, will rely entirely on volunteers. It matches Oklahoma State (7-5) against Purdue (6-6).
The big question many critics have is, “What do these bowl bosses do the other 11 months of the year?”
Negotiations with TV and conference partners are part of it, though those contracts are multi-year deals. Even the team selection process is largely automated by contract. Each game usually gets a certain slot in the pecking orders of certain leagues, unlike decades ago when bowls negotiated to land certain teams.
“We have an event almost every month associated with our two bowl games, and you spend the entire year selling sponsorships,” says Bruce Binkowski of the Holiday and Poinsettia Bowls. “Sometimes I’m busier from January through May than from September through December with all the different things we do.”
Nonprofit bowls are governed by volunteer boards of directors, which typically include local business people and community leaders. Several bowl tax forms say their boards determine executive pay after reviewing a survey of what other bowls pay their executives.
But even the head of the bowl industry’s own trade group acknowledges the survey can be “self-fulfilling.” The survey includes the range of compensation for bowl employees, including the median and the mean. So if a bowl boss gets a raise, the survey will show higher average pay, creating pressure on other bowls to pay more.
“It’s self-fulfilling if you are only looking at your own industry,” says Wright Waters, the director of the Football Bowl Association, a nonprofit that is funded by the bowls to promote them.
Waters, previously the commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference, says pay “ought to be work-related.”
The FBA previously had spent more than $12,000 per year to have Ernst & Young conduct the survey. After Waters took over this year, he told USA TODAY Sports the survey would be discontinued, largely because the FBA can’t afford.
Some bowl officials minimized the survey’s impact in determining salaries.
“I wouldn’t want to be quoted sliming another bowl, but we wouldn’t take a cue from other bowls on what they pay their executives,” says John Wertz, president of the San Diego Bowl Association, which operates the Poinsettia Bowl and Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl. “We try to do it based on what’s fair and reasonable in San Diego.”
The San Diego Bowl Association is one of four organizations that conducts two bowl games per year, but it paid Binkowski $283,095 last year, ranking near the bottom of the scale.
The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl’s executive director, Gary Cavalli, had his pay ($375,176) determined after his board reviewed data on pay, “specifically the annual salary surveys of the Football Bowl Association,” according to the bowl’s tax form.
The CEO of the Alamo Bowl, Derrick Fox, made $461,248 last year.
“We do find the survey to be very helpful,” says Randy Cain, the volunteer chairman of the Alamo Bowl’s board. “We make sure we’re within bounds of that.”
It’s a free-market approach to setting salaries. But critics say that’s a problem when the businesses they operate are nonprofits that require subsidies from nonprofit universities and conferences.
“Under the guise of free-market economics, many people in the college-sport enterprise are compensated very handsomely,” Southall says. “This, in and of itself, is not bad, but the (bowl) system is a false free-market economy,” in large part because schools often subsidize the bowls by paying for unsold tickets.
Powered by Facebook Comments