BOGACZYK: Access Bowl Date Could Be Peachy for Herd, C-USA
The Word on the Herd-Nov. 23, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Everybody in Conference USA is rooting for Marshall, and everybody was wiping their brows and cracking their knuckles Saturday while the Herd was struggling at Legion Field.
If everybody in C-USA isn’t pulling for the 11-0 Herd, they should be.
The other 13 C-USA members – that includes Charlotte, which begins league football next season – stand to prosper if the unbeaten and nationally ranked Thundering Herd can finish the deal and reach a College Football Playoff access bowl.
The conference office in Irving, Texas, is pulling for the Herd, too.
A 13-0 Herd in a Peach or Cotton bowl not only will enrich the coffers of C-USA and its members, but it will significantly raise the football profile of a league that has undergone realignment twice in a decade.
"It’s huge for all of the members of our conference," C-USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky told me recently. "We’ve had teams in this position before (in the Bowl Championship Series era), and there is still football to be played. But if Marshall gets that opportunity to get into one of those Playoff access bowls, it would be great."
Among the three access bowls for the 2014 season, the Peach and Fiesta are scheduled the afternoon of Dec. 31. The Cotton is Jan. 1 at 12:30 p.m.
Banowsky didn’t mince words about the Herd and a season in which Coach Doc Holliday’s team has dominated the competition until that scare at UAB.
"I think Marshall is the best team we’ve had in the conference in my time as commissioner (since 2002)," Banowsky said. "They’re as good as we’ve had. We’ve had some really good Southern Miss teams, Houston, Louisville teams, TCU when it was in the conference.
"I’d put Marshall right there with any of them."
Conference USA was founded in 1996. What’s generally regarded as the best team in league history came before Banowsky’s time in charge – the 1998 Tommy Bowden-coached Tulane team that finished 12-0 and No. 7 in the national polls.
In 2004, Louisville was 10-1 in the regular season and averaged more than 50 points per game, but a 41-38 loss at Miami (Fla.) ruined what would have been a perfect season. Those Cardinals downed previously unbeaten Boise State in the Liberty Bowl and ranked No. 6 in the final polls.
And in the 2011 C-USA title game, unbeaten No. 7 Houston was upset by No. 24 Southern Miss – which had lost to Marshall early in the season – to ruin the Cougars’ and C-USA’s hopes for a BCS bowl entrant.
But all of that and the BCS are history, and the new College Football Playoff gives Marshall and its C-USA brethren a better opportunity financially and on the field as well.
Banowsky and Herd Athletic Director Mike Hamrick provided some details on the financial side, with both stressing what the significance of a New Year’s Eve or Jan. 1 bowl would be to Marshall and C-USA from an exposure standpoint.
"It’s a big deal for more than the additional revenue," Banowsky said. "And for Marshall, that exposure goes hand-in-hand with the new facilities there (the Chris Cline Athletic Complex’s indoor facility and its components). It shows a program that’s committed to success."
Hamrick said the Herd has positioned itself for a big boost in profile, as long as Coach Doc Holliday’s team can defeat Western Kentucky this Friday and then win the C-USA title game on Dec. 6 against Louisiana Tech or Rice – and all but assured at Edwards Stadium.
"The opportunity to perhaps go to a College Football Playoff access bowl, that’s very significant, a game-changer for us," Hamrick said. "It would be huge for our entire program to be able to play in a New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day bowl. That’s never happened before quite like this."
He’s right. The Herd’s only New Year’s Day bowl was the program’s first – a Jan. 1, 1948 loss to Catawba in the Tangerine Bowl.
"It’s the exposure, and in one of those six Playoff bowls, you’re a top 12 team in those bowls," Hamrick added. "The financial ramifications and the exposure are significant."
Well, Conference USA received about $2.9 million in Bowl Championship Series revenue for 2013, the final BCS season.
"First off, I’d say the amount of revenue (for the Group of Five leagues) through the College Football Playoff is significantly more than it was in the BCS – three or four times as much," Banowsky said. "The base is bigger, and everyone’s share will be bigger."
The Group of Five conferences (C-USA, AAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Mid-American) are splitting upwards of $80 million.
There’s a three-pronged distribution plan for those conferences via the CFP. First, the conferences split $60 million equally. The next $15 million is divided based upon overall conference performance (via computer rankings), one through five.
Conference USA currently is ranked No. 3, Hamrick said, behind the AAC and Mountain West, so that would bring C-USA another $ million.
Banowsky said C-USA "conservatively" budgeted $12 million for those two revenue streams. It’s obvious the conference will receive more than that.
That revenue is split among the 14 C-USA schools – yes, Charlotte is included, although it isn’t playing C-USA football until 2015. So, let’s say the C-USA total for those two streams would be $15 million. That’s $1.07 million per school.
If Marshall goes 13-0 and gets the nod from the CFP Selection Committee as the top-ranked Group of Five team, then another $6 million comes into play – and that’s revenue that only the conference with the participating access bowl team receives.
"That’s not included in our budget," the commissioner said. "We didn’t budget with the (premise) of having a team (in an access bowl)."
From that $6 million base, the Herd would get to retain $1.2 million off the top.
"We would expense Marshall’s trip to the bowl," Banowsky said. "Everything left over goes into a pool and is split."
Hamrick said it’s a 16-way split. The participating team receives two shares, with the other 13 C-USA members and the conference office receiving one share.
If Marshall’s expenses are $1.5 million – the Peach Bowl, for example has teams in Atlanta from Christmas night through the Dec. 31 game – that would leave about $206,000 per share.
In addition, Marshall would get to retain up to $2 million from the Herd’s own ticket sales to the bowl.
So, if you do that math, the Herd could be looking at CFP and access bowl revenue in the $2.9 million neighborhood (or more, if those expenses are less), even before you start counting those ticket sales toward an additional potential $2 million.
It’s up to Holliday’s Herd to finish the deal. And if it happens, it will be another "feel good" story for Conference USA in the second year after a second realignment.
"When we went through realignment two times ago (after the 2004-05 school year), we lost Cincinnati and Louisville (and USF) and the feeling was we were kind of down," Banowsky said. "Then, we had Memphis step up and go to the Final Four (in ’08, losing the title game to Kansas).
"We went through realignment again (losing seven members) and now we have Marshall having a great season. Having a bell cow like Marshall this season is big for us. It’s cool. It’s a great opportunity for the conference."