GLENDALE, Ariz. — It seems only appropriate that UCF President John Hitt and many others in the school's Fiesta Bowl travel party spent the first 24 hours without their luggage after the airline lost it upon the team's arrival in Arizona.
You could say the Knights have lost their shirts in more ways than one on this bowl trip.
You'll have to excuse Hitt for feeling like the proud papa who just found out his first daughter is getting married.
He's elated. He's appreciative. He's satisfied and gratified.
And then he gets the wedding bill.
"It's going to cost HOW MUCH?"
This is the conflicted feeling Hitt had when he found out the UCF Knights would be going to a school-first BCS bowl and would be playing Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl, 2,000 miles and several million dollars away from Orlando.
"Amid the happiness," Hitt cracks from his hotel in Arizona, "I felt a little like the dog that was chasing the car — and then caught it!"
This is what happens when your dreams come true and then you learn you're going to have to go in debt to realize them.
"Welcome to the Fiesta Bowl, UCF. That'll be $2 million. Cash or credit?"
It's no secret to anyone that UCF stands to lose a bundle of money in Fiesta Bowl ticket sales — or lack thereof. The school was responsible for selling its allotment of 17,500 Fiesta Bowl tickets and unloaded less than one third (5,000) and returned more than 10,000 tickets. At an average price of $200 per ticket, the math is pretty simple. UCF stands to lose more than $2 million in ticket sales alone for this bowl game.
Of course, unsold bowl tickets aren't just a UCF problem. Baylor returned more than 5,000 tickets to the Fiesta Bowl. Wisconsin sold less than one-third of its allotment (about 4,000) of 12,500 tickets to the Capital One Bowl. Ohio State sold just 7,000 of its 17,500 allotment for the Orange Bowl and LSU sold about 6,000 of its 12,000 tickets for the Outback Bowl. The list goes on.
The difference, of course, is that teams from the "Power 5" conferences such as the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 can recoup the lost ticket money from their leagues' massive TV contracts and bowl distribution pools. UCF's new league — the American Athletic Conference — is trying to help UCF defray some of the costs, but needs to do more.
When all is said and done, Hitt estimates that UCF stands to lose upward of $2 million on this bowl trip, which is a decent chunk of UCF's $40 million athletic budget. It would be like a family that makes $100,000 annually losing $5,000. You know what that means? It means Little Johnny's not going to private school or Little Susie isn't getting braces on her teeth.
"It's not crippling and we can handle it," Hitt says. "We just don't feel like we should have to. … You shouldn't place such a burden on the team that earns the money."
Translation: UCF won the league championship and is responsible for $17 million the Fiesta Bowl is paying the American Athletic Conference. Why should the American's bowl-less bottom-feeders like USF, Temple and Memphis make money on the league's bowl distribution pool while UCF loses a couple of million?
Can you imagine this happening in any other form of entertainment? Can you imagine Lady Gaga paying a couple of million out of her own pocket to put on a concert while the promotion company pays the anonymous backup singers to stay home and do nothing?
At the very least, the American Athletic Conference should cover UCF's expenses and only then split up the bowl money evenly with the remainder of the league.
A BCS bowl game should be a reward for a championship season.
Not a multi-million-dollar penance that turns a winning team into a financial loser.
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