The sponsor fallout from the child-molestation scandal at Penn State University continued on Sunday when the football program was apparently snubbed from more attractive -- and more lucrative -- bowl games.
Penn State will play the University of Houston in the TicketCity Bowl on Monday, Jan. 2, in a nationally televised game in Dallas, but that game is seventh out of eight on the Big Ten Conference's pecking order of bowl games. Penn State could have been chosen as high as fourth. Instead, it was bypassed three times by bowl games that selected teams with worse records than Penn State -- three teams that PSU beat during the regular season, too -- and slid down to the penultimate choice, forfeiting anywhere from $600,000 in a bowl game payout to $2.25 million.
"This is an unprecedented and unfortunate situation for everyone," Mr. Woods said. "Let me emphasize that our primary goal for our teams in the Insight Bowl is to make sure they have a positive and memorable experience in our bowl and in our state. When we look at the relentless media coverage of Penn State's issues and what we have already seen from our local press, we think negative media would overshadow the game experience for both teams and negatively impact our sponsors and partners, leaving a negative experience for all participants. That would not be fair for anyone, including the students who are not responsible for any of these issues."
The scandal erupted on Nov. 5 when former longtime football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was indicted on 40 counts of child sexual abuse charges. The charges have rocked the school and the college football world -- Penn State's athletic director and a vice president both resigned, and the school's Board of Trustees fired president Graham Spanier and legendary football coach Joe Paterno. This will be the first bowl game the football team has played without Mr. Paterno on the sidelines since 1962.
The Big Ten Conference has contractual tie-ins with eight bowls, starting with either the national championship game if its conference champion qualifies, or the Rose Bowl -- both of which pay out $18 million and $17 million to its participants, respectively. As conference champion, Wisconsin earned a ticket to the Rose Bowl. Next is the Capital One Bowl, which selected a 10-2 Michigan State team that finished as the conference runner-up to Wisconsin. The third bowl in the order, the Outback Bowl, chose Nebraska, which had the same 9-3 record as the Nittany Lions but beat Penn State during the season. Those choices are obvious.
Then came the next three bowls. The TaxSlayer Gator Bowl chose Ohio State from the Big Ten to play Florida, the Insight Bowl selected the Big Ten's Iowa to play Oklahoma, and the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas selected the conference's Northwestern to take on Texas A&M.
Ohio State and Northwestern finished 6-6 during the regular season, and Iowa was 7-5. Penn State finished with a better record than all three teams, defeated all three teams in the regular season, and is a program that is known to "travel well" in college football -- that is , it brings its legions of its fans out to bowl games, filling city coffers with tourist dollars for several days. Under normal circumstances, a bowl game would jump at the chance to select Penn State.
The Gator Bowl pays out $2.7 million each to participating teams, the Insight pays $3.35 million, and the Meineke Car Care Bowl pays out $1.7 million. Penn State will receive a $1.1 million payment from its appearance in the TicketCity Bowl, and must share some of that revenue with the conference. The TicketCity Bowl is also broadcast on ESPNU, rather than ESPN or ESPN2, which televises all but four of the 35 bowl games between Dec. 17 and Jan. 8. That means about a quarter less eyeballs will be on Penn State -- ESPNU is in about 73 million homes, while ESPN and ESPN2 are in almost 100 million each.
Penn State interim president Rod Erickson announced this morning that Penn State will donate its bowl payout to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
The Gator and Meineke bowls did not return requests for comments at press time.
Said one bowl executive, who asked not to be identified: "Nobody wants to punish the players for something they had nothing to do with, but I know I wouldn't want Penn State here when another interview with Jerry Sandusky ends up on the front page of The New York Times. We have a sponsor to answer to."
Sports marketing expert Bob Dorfman of San Francisco's Baker Street Partners said he actually thought Penn State fared well in even being selected for the TicketCity Bowl.
"All things considered, Houston is a higher-ranked opponent and has a Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback in Case Keenum," he said. "Given the circumstances, and that the more Jerry Sandusky talks, the creepier the story gets, Penn State came out pretty well. I actually wouldn't have been surprised to have seen them passed over by all 35 bowl committees."