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Infographic Of The Day: The Insane Economics Behind College-Bowl Football

Right now, we're in the thick of college-bowl season: The Orange Bowl is tonight, the Cotton Bowl is on Friday, and Monday brings the championship Sugar Bowl, pitting LSU against Alabama. (Geaux Tigers!) Unless you live under a rock in the farthest reaches of Alaska—hi there!—or anywhere other than the U.S., you know that those games are unbelievably lucrative. But it might come as a surprise just how large the numbers are. In fact, when you see them all laid out in cumulative fashion, you might think that it's ridiculous that these football players don't get paid—because it sure seems like they're the only ones who don't.

Created by Obizmedia for H&R Block, the infographic takes pains to explain what the Bowl Championship Series is. Briefly, it's a system of rankings that pits the best college football teams against each other, in a series of bowls with varying prestige. There's roughly 10 or so top-tier bowl games, culminating in the BCS National Championship; the top five BCS games together made $1.2 billion for their host cities in 2010. There are dozens and dozens of others; granted, none makes quite so much money as the blue chips, but you can see why every year seems to bring another one to the likes of ESPN 2:

And you know what the damnedest thing is? Despite hundreds of thousands of fans buying tickets, hundreds of advertisers, and ticket prices upwards of $300, these bowls are run as nonprofits. Say what?!

If that sounds fishy to you, it should: Bowl administration is rife with all kinds of nastiness. For one, as nonprofits, these bowls aren't suppose to be involved in politics. But it so happens that the Sugar Bowl was found to have been funneling money to the governor of Louisiana. And surprise! The governor in turn gave millions upon millions in subsidies to the Sugar Bowl. Similar improprieties have been found behind the Fiesta Bowl, which may lead to it being kicked out of the BCS altogether.

Meanwhile, the directors of these bowls make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. What the infographic doesn't say is that these directors are taking home, in some cases, around 10% of the total ticket revenue for a job that doesn't have too many duties at all. (Who do you know that makes $500,000 and runs an office consisting of only two administrative assistants?) After all, people would still come to these games and they'd still spend money in the cities even if the director got paid a measely $250,000. So what, exactly, are they getting paid for? The examples of the Sugar Bowl and Fiesta Bowl make you wonder.

[Top image by Pete Saloutos/Shutterstock]