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Central Michigan, other schools lose money on bowl trips

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

It's hard to argue a few days in the Bahamas in late December are more appealing than the same amount of time in Detroit.

And that's where the Central Michigan football team finds itself, celebrating a trip to the inaugural Bahamas Bowl and a matchup against Western Kentucky on Dec. 24 instead of a spot in the first Quick Lane Bowl, the successor to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

"We are excited to go to any bowl," Central Michigan athletic director Dave Heeke said. "That's what you do in college football, you earn the right to play in the postseason and only so many teams can do that. That is the goal. How you are assigned to a bowl and where that falls is a little bit of luck and just by the product of the conference and how they hand out those invites and the matchups and the destinations."

But as much as the trip to the tropical destination is a nice reward, it also comes with a cost. It's a cost teams in the Power Five conferences typically don't have to deal with.

While Bahamas Bowl officials haven't divulged its payout, the more important number is $450,000. That's the amount Central Michigan is getting from the Mid-American Conference to cover its expenses. That's a far cry from the more than $2 million Michigan State will receive to pay for its trip to the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1.

That, however, is life in a non-Power Five conference.

"There is an expectation there will be a cost when you go to these games," Heeke said. "Our institution views it as an investment for the exposure and the positive nature of being in the bowl spectrum and being in the postseason. Even with the supplemental dollars we will need to invest to make this a reality, and that comes with most bowl around the country."

In other words, whether Central Michigan played in the Bahamas or Detroit, it would be spending money to make it happen.

In fact, the only difference in Detroit — a place Central Michigan has played four times — is there likely would be more opportunity to sell tickets to help defray costs, something that is more difficult with a destination like the Bahamas.

"This is a bowl that is made more for the Bahamas and the nation to promote football there," Heeke said. "And the television component, those are key elements to this bowl.

"Detroit also required us to make an investment, so those were not profitable if you determined it by a break even or not. None of those Detroit bowls were break even either. We invested further dollars to ensure it was a good quality experience."

It's not the same scenario for Michigan State, which is playing in its eighth straight bowl. It has played in everything from the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to the Rose Bowl, and more often than not, it's breaking even.

The money the Spartans receive for expenses comes from the $6 million per team payout for playing in the Cotton Bowl, with the rest going to the Big Ten.

"It will come pretty close," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said of the allotment covering costs. "The league office does a great job with each bowl. It costs more to go to Arizona (than some other sites), so that payout will be a little higher. They took a historical view of each place and the teams' costs, so it should be right on where those expenses will be. We're working hard to stay within that amount."

There's no doubt Michigan State's trip to a New Year's Six bowl will be seen as worthwhile. But the same feeling will exist at Central Michigan, even with the costs and other issues associated with traveling outside the U.S., including securing passports for the entire team.

Regardless, it will be worth it for the Chippewas.

"This is an awesome experience for the student athletes," Heeke said. "It's a super time slot for television and the Bahaman nation is excited about the bowl game.

"Again, there is never a bad bowl to go to. Playing football in the postseason, that is what we need to do and that is our tradition. We continue to go to bowl games and that is recognition of a good season."

And the fact it comes in the tropics is just an added bonus.