Competing for a national championship is expensive, but for Clemson University, the benefits outweigh the costs.
The university will spend millions of dollars on travel expenses in its quest that will end Monday night in Tampa, Florida, against the University of Alabama.
But thanks to the location of this year's game and changes instituted by the College Football Playoff organizers, Clemson is hoping to reduce some of its costs this year, said Graham Neff, the university's deputy director of athletics.
The purchase of a unique insurance policy is also expected to yield $1.5 million in savings for Clemson related to the bonuses that head football coach Dabo Swinney and other members of his staff will receive for reaching this year's title game.
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According to Neff, Clemson spent more than $7 million on travel costs and bonuses during last year's playoff run, which ended in a 45-40 loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship in Glendale, Arizona. Alabama spent more than $9 million on bonuses and travel-related expenses, according to CBS Sports.
Clemson and Alabama each received $4.16 million from College Football Playoff officials last year to help cover their travel costs. This year, the two schools will each receive $4.32 million.
Neff said Clemson's athletic department relishes the opportunity to travel to College Football Playoff games every year that it can.
The university's travel expenses also are being more than offset by its share of the money that the Atlantic Coast Conference receives in payouts from the College Football Playoff and other bowl games.
The ACC received at least $57 million last year based on the College Football Playoff's revenue distribution formula. The league is expected to receive $88.5 million this year in payouts from the College Football Playoff and for Florida State University's appearance in the Orange Bowl, according to Forbes magazine.
An ACC official declined to disclose the league's precise payouts, citing a policy not to release financial information.
Neff said the money received by the ACC is divided equally among the league's 14 schools with football teams. That means Clemson stands to receive at least $10 million from last year's playoff and this year's games.
Last year Clemson spent a total of about $4 million to send 800 players, coaches, support staff, band members, cheerleaders and university officials to the College Football Playoff semifinal game in Miami and championship game in Arizona. Clemson also spent $2.3 million on football staff bonuses, $1.4 million for 4,000 game tickets that were given to players, coaches and other university officials and about $100,000 for bowl rings, many of which were given to football players as awards.
While Clemson is sending similar-sized contingents to this year's games, Neff cited several factors that should lead to cost reductions.
For starters, Clemson's 400 band members are riding buses to the championship game in Tampa instead of flying, he said.
Last year, Clemson spent between $450 and $650 on each of the 2,069 tickets to the championship game that it distributed to players, coaches and university officials. This year College Football Playoff officials are providing the university with 750 tickets at a reduced price of $175, Neff said.
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Playoff officials also worked out a cost-saving arrangement with Delta Air Lines for two flights that are taking members of Clemson's contingent to Tampa, Neff said. Last year the university paid a premium to book flights five days before the championship game in Arizona, he said.
Additional savings will come from a bowl-bonus insurance policy that Clemson obtained, Neff said. This policy, which cost about $275,000, will cover about $2 million in bonuses that Swinney and other members of his staff will earn.
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The football team, band and cheerleaders are not the only people that Clemson is paying to send to this year's playoff games.
Several members of Clemson's board of trustees joined university President Jim Clements and a "handful" of vice presidents at the semifinal contest in Arizona, according to Mark Land, vice president for university relations. They stayed at the team's hotel, The Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch.
"Given the uncertainty of the weather this weekend and some other considerations, I can't say for sure whether all of our trustees will make it to the championship game in Tampa but it's fair to say the most of them will," Land said in an email. "Likewise the president and several vice presidents will be in attendance as well. The team and official Clemson traveling party will be staying at the Grand Hyatt and Westin hotels, as will many of our fans.
"It's important to note that these trips aren't vacation for those in the formal university traveling party," Land said. "Clemson has been fortunate to have had a national spotlight these last two years as a result of its football success, and university leadership works very hard to leverage these opportunities on behalf of Clemson."
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Land said Clemson officials will meet with potential donors and entertain important guests in Tampa to "raise awareness about Clemson University on a broad level."
"We're also using this as an opportunity to introduce Clemson to high school guidance counselors as part of our efforts to attract the best possible students from across the country," he said. "And a number of folks will be participating in at least one public service event while there.
"It's an exciting time, to be sure," Land said. "But there is also a lot of university work being done in Florida over the next several days."