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Morris: USC watching budget, even at a bowl game

One of the major expenses for a bowl game is transporting and housing football players.
One of the major expenses for a bowl game is transporting and housing football players. The State

TAMPA, Fla.

ERIC HYMAN IS determined to make sure South Carolina contributes to his athletics department coffers by participating in Thursday’s Outback Bowl.

“We look at our costs, and we try to keep the budget under the amount of money that we get for the bowl,” Hyman said. “From an administrative standpoint, my philosophy has always been you keep it within your budget.”

Translation: USC is guaranteed a healthy paycheck from the Southeastern Conference for playing in the bowl game; beyond that, it is up to USC to control costs and secure an even bigger profit.

The bowl-game financial formula is not complicated. The Outback Bowl pays $3.2 million each to the SEC and the Big Ten Conference, of which Iowa is a member. The SEC keeps about $2 million of that money and gives USC $1.2 million to cover all expenses.

Actually, USC gets $1.1 million from the SEC, plus $200 per mile (one way) for the trip from Columbia to Tampa. That extra $100,000 — in USC’s case — helps teams that must travel a great distance for a bowl.

The SEC’s share of the Outback Bowl money goes into a league pot along with bowl shares from the conference’s seven other participating teams this season. Each of the SEC’s 12 schools receives one-thirteenth of the league bowl money, and the conference gets an equal share.

Also tossed into the SEC pot are television rights money and any other profit, such as NCAA basketball tournament revenue for participating teams. A year ago, the league paid out $11 million to each member’s athletics department. With a new TV multibillion-dollar deal on the horizon for the SEC, that bottom line to each school should skyrocket in the near future.

It is that other $1.2 million for bowl expenses where things get complicated. In USC’s three bowl games under Hyman’s administration, the athletics department has taken a different approach to spending from the previous athletics administration.

The athletics department saw USC’s back-to-back visits to the Outback Bowl following the 2000 and 2001 seasons as a celebration, a reward for not only outstanding football seasons but also good work by the department. Department members and their families were invited to enjoy the good times in Tampa, mostly at USC’s expense.

Both years, the athletics department’s spending at the Outback Bowl exceeded the allotment for costs from the SEC.

In USC’s two bowl trips under Hyman’s watch, the athletics department has come in under cost. Although it spent $910,000 for the 2005 Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., USC operated in the black by $117,000. For the 2006 Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., USC’s expenses totaled $1,498,000, and it turned a $179,000 profit.

“It was a challenge, but we ended up operating in the black,” Hyman says. “This year is going to be a lot closer because costs (hotels, airplane flights) have gone up.”

The largest expense for any bowl game is the transportation and housing for the team, the band and cheerleaders. Essentially, USC moves a small army of participants to Tampa in two waves, the first on Friday and the remainder on Tuesday.

An area of concern from the outset was ticket sales. USC was responsible for the sale of 11,000 Outback Bowl tickets. Because the SEC will cover up to 3,000 tickets, USC needed to sell only 8,000 tickets. Had it not sold 8,000 tickets, USC was responsible for buying the difference, at $65 apiece. As of Sunday, the school had sold 9,200, meaning the SEC will pay for any of the remaining 1,800 that are not sold.

There is a hidden cost in the sale of those tickets. Each player is allotted six tickets, each coach receives four, and cheerleaders and band members also are given complimentary tickets. Those tickets, which number close to 1,500, are purchased by USC and count toward the number sold. That is an expense close to $100,000 to the department.

As a way to trim costs, Hyman also allotted $500 — for lodging and two tickets to the game — to any athletics administration member who wanted to attend the bowl. In the past, department officials charged all expenses to the department.

Another expense that did not come under scrutiny, but perhaps should have in these challenging economic times, is the transportation, lodging and tickets for members of the USC board of trustees. They are scheduled to arrive in Tampa on Tuesday.

Hyman has attempted to be frugal in other areas as well. The team is practicing at Jefferson High School, which charges $400 a day rent for the facilities. The other option was to practice at the University of South Florida for $1,000 a day. With rising hotel and flight costs, every savings of $3,000 counts.

“The first and foremost thing is to make sure you recognize your student-athletes, obviously the football team, but all the students who go — managers, trainers, band, cheerleaders — to make sure it’s a good experience for them,” Hyman said. “That’s No. 1, and obviously it’s a recognition and reward for your coaches.”

As long as it all comes within budget.

Listen to Morris Tuesdays from 4 to 5 p.m. on ESPN Radio 93.1 FM.

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