DeKALB – Before the 2012 Mid-American Conference Championship Game, the MAC held a conference call with representatives from Northern Illinois and Kent State.
The winner had a shot at going to a BCS bowl game, which meant a special experience and great exposure for the program, but also some hefty expenses and a big-ticket commitment that would be extremely tough for a smaller program to fulfill.
The conference decided it would help the winning school, which ended up being NIU after a 44-37 victory in double overtime at Ford Field in Detroit, should it earn a BCS bid.
NIU had the dominoes fall the right way and earned a trip to the Orange Bowl. The conference then helped cover NIU’s expenses, the biggest part of which was paying for the allotment of 17,500 tickets. Playing in the Orange Bowl also required staying in South Florida for an entire week. Not to mention, the Huskies stayed at the luxurious Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach.
The school’s total expenses topped $1 million. Thanks to the MAC’s distribution to the university of more than $1.3 million, NIU ended up with a net gain of more than $253,000 from its Orange Bowl trip. The $1.3 million NIU received was the university’s share from the $8 million in BCS revenue the MAC was given.
“We made that arrangement before the game, which was really historic and unique and significantly different from other non-AQs with the opportunity to go to a BCS bowl game,” said NIU acting athletic director Christian Spears, who was part of the conference call back in late November. “There’s other schools (that have competed in BCS games) that were on the hook, so the Mid-American Conference really stepped up.”
After competing in the GoDaddy.com Bowl in January of 2012, NIU had a net loss of $161,558. Over the past five bowl games, the only other time the school has came away with a net gain was in 2010, when NIU made $50,097 following the Humanitarian Bowl.
NIU’s BCS appearance was the first in the history of the conference, and netted the league the $8 million payout to redistribute to its member schools. In this situation, Spears said the conference wanted to make sure NIU was covered when it came to finances.
“Their commitment to us was to ensure that our expenses, from a hotel perspective, from a ticket perspective and from a travel perspective, were completely covered, so that we were made whole,” Spears said. “What we did is managed that budget really effectively, which allowed us to have a net gain.”
Debra Boughton, NIU associate athletic director for business affairs, said there is also roughly $4 million remaining from the BCS that will be divided among the MAC’s 13 football schools. The division of that revenue will be decided at a meeting in May.
When it comes to BCS games, it hasn’t always been a success story financially for participating schools. Connecticut’s trip to the Fiesta Bowl in 2011 infamously cost that school $1.8 million.
Selling 17,500 tickets can be a daunting task for any MAC program or non-AQ school. Although NIU sold only 3,266 Orange Bowl tickets, the league stepped in to help.
“When you look at an Orange Bowl contract that wants you to purchase 17,500 tickets, that’s a conversation that you’ve got to have with a lot of different people on this task, to actually commit to that kind of resource,” Spears said.
“So to know before we had to sign that contract that that part was off the table, was an amazing thing we were able to accomplish with the Mid-American Conference.”