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UTAH, BYU BOWLING FOR DOLLARS (NOT)

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THERE ARE MANY reasons for a football team to want to be in a bowl game, but contrary to popular opinion, money isn't necessarily one of them. If you're planning to build an indoor practice facility on your bowl proceeds, you'd better be going to the Rose Bowl.

Attend a small bowl, and you'll want to bring your credit cards, just in case. It could be an expensive proposition.The University of Utah and BYU are back in the post-season sweepstakes once again. The Utes are making their third straight appearance, the Cougars their 17th. Which brings up the obvious questions: Does this ever get old? Do they ever want to just go home and watch the teams on television?

Not a chance.

Just because teams work all year for a bowl invitation, though, doesn't mean playing in bowl games is a great financial windfall. In some cases, the advantages of playing in such a game are strictly non-financial.

Reasons, other than financial, for attending bowl games are significant. Teams that don't play regularly on national television (read: WAC teams) receive publicity they couldn't buy during the regular season. The publicity enhances the image of the school and acts as a recruiting tool.

Bowl games give boosters a reason to brag, as well as a reason to get into a warm-weather climate for the holidays. They also reward the players for their efforts during the regular season. But the "M-factor" - as in money - varies widely.

"I kind of smile when I hear people think we're making a lot of money," says Ute athletic director Chris Hill.

The disparity in bowl payouts is immense. Teams playing in the Rose Bowl earn $7 million each, which can buy a lot of shoulder pads. Orange Bowl participants rake in $4.2 million each, Sugar Bowl teams get $4.15 million and Cotton Bowl teams $3 million. Money-makers one and all. The Holiday Bowl, host to the WAC champion, pays $1.7 million, making it a bowl game in which teams can clear a respectable sum.

Others aren't so wealthy. Two of the lowest-paying bowls are the Freedom and the Copper bowls, which happen to be hosting Utah and BYU this month. Those bowls have a guarantee of just $750,000.

Given such numbers, it isn't surprising to learn that Utah and BYU will probably about break even this year. The indoor practice facilities will have to wait. At last year's Freedom Bowl, the Utes cleared only about $50,000 after expenses.

How much a team spends just to be in a bowl game can vary. Bringing along the entire athletic department and administration? How about wives and family? That's going to cost some serious money. Cheerleaders and the band? Civic and community leaders and other VIPs are a must.

A good rule of thumb is if the payout isn't over $1 million, you're going to have to work just avoid losing money.

Making money can also vary according to the conference. The WAC used to split the earnings from bowl games evenly among the conference teams. But that has been revised, with competing teams now getting the first $500,000 and 50 percent of the remaining revenue. The other conference teams then divide the other 50 percent.

The impetus for changing the rules was when BYU was going to bowl games and sometimes ended up making less money than conference teams that went nowhere. In 1992 the Cougars attended the Aloha Bowl in Hawaii, which turned into a beautiful trip. But like most beautiful trips, it didn't come cheap. Getting everyone over to Hawaii - never an economical proposition - and back ate up more than what they made from the payout.

Meanwhile, UTEP, which won only one game all season and couldn't have qualified to play in the Tidy Bowl, made money by staying home and watching on television.

Nevertheless, the Cougars staunchly contend the trip to Honolulu was more than worthwhile. They played on network television, in the only bowl game on Christmas Day, giving them enormous exposure.

The WAC now has a rule that allows any team going to Hawaii for a bowl game to keep all the profits, due to the costs involved.

All in all, attending bowl games can be a risky business. It's like getting your name in those Who's Who books, then turning around and buying the book.

So as Utah and BYU move into their bowl seasons, expect them to enjoy the publicity and the vacation in warm-weather climates. Expect their recruiting to improve. Just don't expect them to come back and add onto the football stadium with the proceeds.