College Football Playoff By The Fundraising Numbers

December 29, 2015       Mark Hrywna      

It wouldn’t be New Year’s without dozens of college football bowl games big and small being played around the country, including the College Football Playoff that will determine this year’s national champion. Athletics can play a big part of fundraising at most any institute of higher education so The NonProfit Times examined upcoming bowl matchups based not on football prowess but by the amount of funds raised by development offices.

Estimates come from the most recent annual Voluntary Support of Education survey (VSE) by the Council for Aid to Education (CAE), released in early 2015 and covering the fiscal year ending June 2014. New survey results for 2015 are expected to be released in the coming weeks.

Only about a dozen bowl games remain after Dec. 31 out of a schedule of more than 40. The teams are accompanied by their national ranking and who’s favored:

Dec. 31
Capital One Orange Bowl – Semifinal
#4 Oklahoma (by 3.5)    $160.9 million
#1 Clemson                      $61.7 million
Goodyear Cotton Bowl – Semifinal
#3 Michigan State          $117.5 million
#2 Alabama (by 10)        $78.6 million
These two clashes will determine the championship game participants so let’s hope they’re closer when played between the lines because they aren’t all that close when it comes to fundraising. The results point to a Big 10-Big 12 tilt between Oklahoma and Michigan State for the national title, with both lower seeds pulling off the few bowl upsets – if games were determined by money raised.

Jan. 1
Outback Bowl
#13 Northwestern          $616 million
#23 Tennessee (by 8)      $111 million
The $727 million raised between the two schools is among the highest combined totals of any bowl game. Northwestern isn’t as well known for its football prowess as much as its academia but the Wildcats dominate the Volunteers by almost 6-to-1 in fundraising.

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
#14 Michigan (by 4)        $432 million
#19 Florida                        $215 million
A classic duel on the gridiron, this is another bowl that boasts a big combined total ($647 million). Wolverines football is in the midst of a resurgence behind a new head coach but Michigan has always been near the top of the Big 10 in fundraising.

BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl
#8 Notre Dame                $320 million
#7 Ohio State (by 6.5)    $332 million
This game features one of the closest margins as well as one of the bigger combined fundraising totals among two schools ($652 million). Interestingly enough, the two teams are also ranked back-to-back nationally but it’s the Buckeyes that edge the Irish by less than 4 percent.

Rose Bowl Game
#6 Stanford (by 6)        $928 million
#5 Iowa                           $146 million
Another bowl that features two evenly ranked programs, let’s hope for Iowa’s sake that its first Rose Bowl appearance in 25 years goes better on the football field. The Pasadena, Calif., bowl has the largest combined total of any bowl participants ($1.074 billion) but that’s mainly due to Stanford being among the elite in fundraising, making for one of the more lopsided fundraising matchups.

Allstate Sugar Bowl
#6 Oklahoma State        $76.1 million
#12 Ole Miss (by 7)        $89.9 million
Some schools in New Year’s Day bowls raise as much as these two combined but this bowl game in New Orleans has one of the smallest margins between two programs. The Rebels edge the Cowboys by less than $14 million.

Jan. 2
TaxSlayer Bowl
Penn State                   $215 million
Georgia (by 6.5)          $96 million
When it comes to fundraising, the Big 10 usually comes out on top, as is the case in this clash of traditional football powers.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Kansas State                  $156 million
Arkansas (by 12.5)        $101 million
The Wildcats and Razorbacks are respectable both on the football field and in funds raised but Kansas State still comes out ahead by about 50 percent.

Valero Alamo Bowl
#15 Oregon              $68.2 million
#11 TCU (by 1)         $66.0 million
This could be the narrowest difference between any of the 40-plus bowl games, with barely $2 million separating the Ducks and the Horned Frogs.

Motel 6 Cactus Bowl
West Virginia (by 1)        $85.3 million
Arizona State                   $99.2 million
This is one bowl game where modest success on the football field matches up fairly evenly with each schools’ modest success in raising money. Both schools raise a substantial amount of donations but like the football programs, in most years they’re not in the upper tiers.

Jan. 11
College Football Championship Game
#4 Oklahoma                 $160 million
#3 Michigan State        $117 million
If bowl participants were strictly based on fundraising, neither school would be anywhere near the final game though both are still routinely well into nine digits when it comes to raising money. But based on the final four playoff scenario, this year it would be the Sooners that would be crowned champs if the final were based on fundraising.