|The International Bowl, last played in 2010, went away when it couldn't find sponsorship. (US Presswire)|
You've never heard of the 5-hour Energy Bowl. That's because the NCAA never let it become reality. The association actually squashed the International Bowl's intent to sign the now-omnipotent product as a title sponsor.
"They did a broad stroke categorization that it was in the energy [drink] category," said Don Loding, former executive director of the bowl that ceased operations after the fourth game in 2010. "They were making a policy decision against energy drinks."
That decision in late 2009 had nothing to do with football, attendance or ratings. In the end, though, the verdict essentially killed the bowl.
"It was extremely damaging, yes," Loding said.
The question is: To what extent should the NCAA have that power? You may not care about the short-lived International Bowl, 5-hour Energy or a bloated bowl postseason. But we all care about free-market principals, pure profit and the simple concept of someone minding their business. Those are the basic issues out there as the NCAA board of directors consider an NCAA bowl task force's recommendations later this month.
The International Bowl sponsorship decision was made by the NCAA bowl licensing subcommittee with input from NCAA staff. If the task force recommendations are adopted, that subcommittee would be disbanded. The NCAA then would become "judge and jury" on such sponsorship matters according to a conference source.
Think of it this way: The NCAA constantly preaches that the association is the membership. The subcommittee is made up of representatives from each of the 11 FBS conferences. If it goes away, the NCAA would be deciding bowl sponsorship matters in much the same way it allowed the Buckeye Five to play in the 2011 Sugar Bowl. More in-house than by committee -- or subcommittee.
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It's a bold, new sponsorship world out there for colleges. College athletics' Big Brother wants to be, well, more of a Big Brother when it comes to bowl sponsorship.
Bowl ads describing the benefits of sexual enhancement drugs? Good with the NCAA, according to documents recently obtained by CBSSports.com.
Ads selling you a beer that could wash down that Viagra? Definitely not.
Yes, it's about to get a whole lot more complicated for everyone involved. CBSSports.com reported last week that an NCAA task force will recommend turning over control of bowl management and licensing to the FBS (Division I-A) conferences. But some found it more than curious that the NCAA wants to maintain oversight over bowl sponsors and advertising. To the point it has drafted a detailed advertising, sponsorship and promotional policy to be considered by the NCAA board of directors later this month.
The documents dated March 30 bans familiar vices as ads and sponsors -- alcohol, tobacco and gambling. But they also take a stance on such subjects as misogyny, religious beliefs, obscenity and, yes, those little blue miracles taken for erectile dysfunction.
The documents list 35 subjects or issues that are deemed either "permissible" or "impermissible" "to be associated with Division I Football Bowls."
The further question now seems to be: Is the NCAA changing as quickly -- or at all -- as the membership it serves? It's a different corporate world out there. In general, there are less major sponsors willing or able to spend sponsorship dollars and more emerging 5-Hour Energys. GoDaddy.com seemingly has become a dividing line in the bowl sponsorship hierarchy. The title sponsor for the Mobile, Ala.-based bowl may be known more for its racy ads than what its business -- selling domain names.
"Do we really want the NCAA to be the moral police?" one college administrator said last week.
When amateur athletics and commerce collide, who should decide? Should the NCAA be the sole arbiter in deciding that Five Hour Energy may contain an impermissible nutritional supplement but that Independence Bowl title sponsor AdvoCare is OK?
On its website, AdvoCare says it is a "premier health and wellness company offering world-class energy, weight-loss, nutrition and sports performance products." AdvoCare Spark energy drinks are endorsed by professional athletes (Drew Brees, for one), at least one race car driver and entertainer Michael W. Smith. (A source said AdvoCare was approved as a title sponsor because the bowl is specifically sponsored by the company's V100 drink, an NCAA-approved product.)
"They're [NCAA] is in a very awkward, tenuous type of position because they don't own the bowl games," Loding said. "And yet the bowl games have to be licensed. If it's not licensed, who is going to provide oversight? Some amount of reasonable oversight could make some sense."
But the NCAA's moral compass tends to wander. There was a time when the men's basketball committee once tried to withhold tournament credentials from media outlets that posted point spreads. In 1976, the NCAA filed suit against Title IX.
Some thought NCAA president Mark Emmert overstepped his authority when he warned Penn State it might be investigated for lack of institutional control in the Jerry Sandusky case.
Former NCAA president Myles Brand started the fight to eliminate offensive team nicknames. While some schools acquiesced quietly, the battle over University of North Dakota's "Fighting Sioux" nickname rages. All of it still doesn't explain why Notre Dame's "Fighting Irish" nickname isn't offensive and stereotypical.
"The NCAA drifts into social policy every now and again," said a source who has had business dealings with the NCAA. The source did not want to be identified. "Is that organization, by design, supposed to lead our moral fabric, be engaged in social policy?"
That social policy has, at times, dealt in minutiae. The NCAA has gone as far as considering the protein content of nutritional supplements/drinks in dealing with sponsors according to another source.
UNLV AD Jim Livengood sees the changing landscape and believes a casino will soon sponsor a bowl. The task force recommendations actually account for that possibility as long as the hotel sponsorship does not include a gambling reference. Harrah's Bowl? Yes. Harrah's Sportsbook Bowl? No.
"I think it's inevitable," said Livengood, a veteran of more than three decades of college athletic administration and a one-time member of the basketball committee. "I would never have known this if I hadn't been here for a few years."
Livengood's view is skewed. For the last 2 ½ years he has lived and worked in Las Vegas. It would benefit his school immensely if one day the NCAA basketball tournament came to a planned 50,000-60,000-seat football stadium for the Rebels. As it stands, it won't happen because the NCAA won't locate a championship in Nevada because the state allows sports wagering.
It's an old discussion, but gambling on sports doesn't stop outside of Nevada. It is, however, highly regulated inside the state. It is in everyone's best interests that the Vegas lines, point spreads and sports books are legit. If not, the federal government would intervene and that would cut the industry to the core. For the same reason the NCAA believes point-fixing scandals affect its credibility, Las Vegas highly regulates its sports books.
A clean business is good for business. In terms of being the ultimate watchdog on those point spreads, Sin City essentially sets the standard.
"If people want to gamble they're going to do it," Livengood said. "It's a different world than we lived in five, 10, 15 years ago."
If you believe that the Harrah's Sportsbook Bowl is going to ruin college athletics and the Viagra Bowl isn't, well, it's a short argument. One that the NCAA is doggedly trying to win by making sure there are no more GoDaddy.com bowls. The problem with GoDaddy.com supposedly is the objectification of women.
The documents essentially state that the NCAA will be the one deciding if women are being portrayed as sexual objects and whether material is "defamatory, obscene, profane, vulgar or otherwise considered socially unacceptable ..." The Supreme Court wrings its hands over some of those issues. Is the NCAA alone more qualified?
Livengood was in New Orleans last week trying to convince NCAA officials that his city is a worthy site. They have to start listening. Next year the Pac-12 will join the Mountain West, WAC and West Coast Conference in playing its men's basketball tournament in Vegas. The Pac-12 will play in the MGM Grand Garden Arena, site of big-time boxing matches in the past.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimates a $27 million impact for the city from the Pac-12 tournament. It doesn't end there. There is growing support to move the Big East women's tournament to the Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino. It's no secret but casinos owned by native American tribes have money to burn when it comes to promoting their product. They're in competition with each other. Tribal gaming exists in at least 30 states.
Those casinos throw off public money. That public money means university funding.
So how is tribal gaming worse than Vegas? It isn't, at least in terms of sponsorship dollars. You'll notice there have been few, if any, college point-shaving scandals actually in Las Vegas. They've happened in places like Toledo, Arizona State and Boston College where the practice is unregulated -- and illegal.
Now the NCAA wants more oversight over those sponsorships, those possibilities. It's the age-old battle between the business model and amateur athletic model. It is the essence of the NCAA. But the business model may have won a long time ago. The economy may have decided the battle.
Only a handful of athletic departments actually make money. It's easy to change standards when there isn't enough of that money to go around.