|Monday, December 2
Updated: December 3, 10:52 AM ET
NCAA extends olive branch to two wobbling bowls
By Darren Rovell
Two college bowl games were temporarily saved on Monday after the NCAA once again extended its deadline for the bowls to show their financial solvency.
The Seattle Bowl and the Silicon Valley Football Classic did not file sufficient letters of credit by Monday's deadline -- which was extended for the two bowls when they missed the Nov. 1 target date. But sources close to the games indicated the NCAA would extend the deadline into Tuesday afternoon to produce some evidence that their respective banks will be able to support a $1.5 million letter of credit.
The NCAA requests documentation in advance of the game to guarantee that payouts of $750,000 per participating school will be made. If complete information regarding the bowls' credit was not received by the NCAA on Friday, sources indicated the bowls could be decertified.
Both bowl games are without a title sponsor and need to find a way to fund losses in the event their bowl does not meet revenue projections. On Friday, officials at a San Jose bank notified Silicon Valley Football Classic bowl officials that the San Jose Visitor's and Convention Bureau -- which claimed last year's bowl resulted in $8.2 million in local economic impact -- could not be the sole underwriter since its annual budget was only $6 million.
On Monday, the Western Athletic Conference, which has already agreed to pay a bowl sponsorship fee of $300,000 to maintain the bowl's financial health, became the co-signer, said bowl spokesperson Karin Mast. Terry Daw, owner of the privately-funded Seattle Bowl, said he expects to make Tuesday's deadline, after he came up with the funds to make up the difference between money he will make from the school ticket promises and the payouts.
"The reality is that most bowl games are run as non-profits," Daw said. "The local bank or the chamber of commerce takes on the financial responsibility based on goodwill. Each bowl has their own unique problems and the hardest thing for us to do has been to get that letter."
For some conferences, the letter of credit is merely a formality, but others wouldn't even think of sending their schools to bowls without a letter, even if the NCAA would allow it.
"We're already a stakeholder in (the Silicon Valley Football Classic) so we don't mind, but the opposing school and conference (the sixth choice from the Pac-10 or an at-large bid) want to make sure that they'll get paid," said WAC commissioner Karl Benson.
"The most meaningful criteria that the NCAA has for its bowl certification is that a sponsoring organization can come up the letter of credit," Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen said. "If they don't have that, that's a pretty good sign that the bowl isn't financially viable."
Hansen said it would be hard for a conference to allow a school to travel to a bowl -- spending between $400,000 and $700,000 -- without the guarantee that it would at least make up the money through a guaranteed payout.
"(Monday's) already extended deadline was a very generous goal," Hansen said. "You can't give them that much more time because you have to book your charters, hotel reservations and start selling tickets in good faith to the fans."
Tickets for the Seattle Bowl went on sale on Oct. 1, while Silicon Valley Football Classic tickets went on sale at 1 p.m. on Monday.
Although the extension might seem too close to bowl time, sources told ESPN.com that the Silicon Valley Football Classic filed their letter of credit with the NCAA last year on Dec. 18 -- just 12 days before the bowl was played. The Seattle Bowl is scheduled for Dec. 30 at 5:30 p.m. ET, while the Silicon Valley Football Classic kicks off a day later at 3:30 p.m. ET.
"It's a no-brainer to get $1 million worth of ticket sales," said Chuck Shelton, executive director of the Silicon Valley Football Classic, which will require the Pac-10 school to purchase 10,000 tickets to the game. "Last year we did $1.2 (million)," Shelton said.
But sales could be slow for both games this year. On Nov. 23, Fresno State knocked off San Jose State and accepted its third consecutive bid to the Silicon Valley Classic. That's a three-hour drive for a David Carr-less team that endured a disappointing season. Had San Jose State won the game, they would have played the Silicon Valley Football Classic in their home stadium, much like the WAC champion Boise State team will play in Bronco Stadium for the Humanitarian Bowl.
Meanwhile, the Seattle Bowl could suffer from inviting the same school back for the second straight game. Georgia Tech, which beat Stanford 24-14 in the inaugural bowl last season, is predicted to make the 2,700-mile trek back to the West Coast for the game once again this year. Daw said that Seattle houses an "unusually large" fan base of Yellow Jackets fans thanks to the location of nearby Microsoft.
Although companies located in Silicon Valley, such as Cisco and Hewlett-Packard, reportedly have been interested in title sponsorship, the bowl game has never had a title sponsor in its three years of existence.
"A title sponsor would certainly help us get better cash flow," said Shelton, who is still searching for one with a month left before the game is played.
The Seattle Bowl signed video game company 989 Sports as the title sponsor less than five days before last year's game, but does not have one this year.
"It wouldn't help us get our letter of credit any faster," Daw said. "Most sponsors don't pay out any money until the game is played anyway."
Calls to NCAA officials on Monday were not returned.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.