At least seven bowl games paid their top official more than $500,000 in fiscal year 2014, according to tax forms for bowls that have publicly available financial records. Ten years ago, no bowl director exceeded $500,000.
The highest-paid bowl director in 2014-15 appeared to be the Cotton Bowl's Rick Baker, who made $994,065 in total compensation. Next was the Outback Bowl's Jim McVay ($863,222).
The Fiesta Bowl's Robert Shelton received $876,349 in total compensation in 2014-15 during an abbreviated stint that year. The amount included a $280,000 bonus for Shelton, who abruptly resigned in January 2014 after getting hired in 2011 to help the scandal-plagued Fiesta Bowl.
In 2014, the average compensation for bowl directors at the Outback, Sugar, Fiesta/Insight, Orange, Emerald, Alamo, Gator, Capital One/Champs Sports, Cotton, Rose, Holiday/Poinsettia, Music City, Sun and Independence was $522,439. When factoring inflation, that is up from $237,179 in 2001 and $356,578 in 2005.
Fournette and McCaffrey sent a jolt into the bowl system this month by electing not to play in the Citrus and Sun, respectively. Both players are likely NFL first-round picks and play a position (running back) in which there's a short shelf life over a career.
"For anyone to expect them to stay is almost like, how can you say that when the guy has done almost three full years of helping their team win as many games as possible and make them a lot of money?" Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans said. "I think you could see more guys do that. It's not them being selfish or not wanting to play for their team. But you've got to understand too your body is your money. The NFL's not going to care that you're hurt and you tried to play in the bowl. That's your fault."
Said Washington defensive lineman Greg Gaines: "The injury risk is so high that it's probably a smart decision on [McCaffrey's] part. He doesn't seem like a guy that doesn't want to play. He's a tough dude and if he doesn't want to play, there might be something wrong with him."
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said the public often doesn't know what a player does behind-the-scenes with his health to stay on the field.
"That's why I've always had such respect for [former Clemson running back] C.J. Spiller," Swinney said. "Not only did he play in the  bowl game [with a toe injury], it was the coldest bowl game in the history of Clemson football and he was MVP of the game. I think that's one of the reasons why he was picked ninth in the draft. To each his own. Everybody's got to make their own decisions."
For the bowl industry, the possibility of more star players sitting out postseason games is unsettling. If this becomes a trend, bowls could lose a handful of players fans like to see and reinforce a perception some have that most bowls except the playoffs are simply an exhibition game.
"I'm not someone who should judge whether they made a good decision or bad decision," Peach Bowl CEO Gary Stokan said. "I'm sure they put in a lot of forethought on why they would make that decision. That's their right."
The median salaries for some bowl directors is often significantly higher than that for a nonprofit chief executive, according to figures in a 2014 study by Charity Navigator. Out of the 3,929 charities studied, 67 paid their CEO between $500,000 and $1 million. The median compensation for CEOs of charities with expenses between $13.5 million and $25 million was $221,777.
Some bowl executives are paid in part from nonprofit organizations that support the game and other events. Bowls often cite money they donate to charities, the tourism dollars they bring in for cities during a down time of the year, and national exposures for communities on TV broadcasts.
Tax records show the Sugar Bowl continued to have the biggest war chest in 2014 with $70 million in net assets. The Orange Bowl was next at $55.1 million. Financial records for privately-owned bowls are not available.
Finances for individual bowls are all over the map. For example, the Foster Farms Bowl lost a combined $1.3 million on its games from 2012-14 and its net assets decreased to minus-$769,619 in 2015.
The Independence Bowl, which has existed since 1976, reported minus-$582,512 in net assets in 2014. The game has changed title sponsors for a number of years and 2014 was when the Independence played without a contract with Duck Commander, just a letter of intent as title sponsor. The relationship soon ended and Camping World is now the title sponsor.
Independence Bowl executive director Missy Setters had her compensation reduced by 14 percent in 2014. Foster Farms Bowl director Gary Cavalli was up 2 percent in pay, though his compensation was still less than where it was a couple years earlier.
Bowl game finances
Increase/decrease from previous year in parenthesis
|Bowl Organization||Bowl Net Assets||Bowl Director Pay||Year|
|Sugar Bowl||$70 million (+8%)||$761,439 (+1%)||2014-15|
|Orange Bowl Committee*||$55.1 million (+6%)||$614,832 (-22%)||2014-15|
|Arizona Sports Foundation (Fiesta)#||$54.5 million (+8%)||$1,077,099 (+83%)||2014-15|
|Pasadena Tournament of Roses Assoc.||$34.9 million (+3%)||$427,320 (+17%)||2014-15|
|Peach Bowl||$30.7 million (+28%)||$680,010 (+4%)||2014-15|
|Cotton Bowl Athletic Assoc.||$19.3 million (+19%)||$994,065 (+2%)||2014-15|
|San Antonio Bowl Assoc. (Alamo)||$16.9 million (+1%)||$578,216 (+3%)||2014-15|
|Florida Citrus Sports Assoc.^||$9.9 million (+13%)||$459,756 (+8%)||2014-15|
|Tampa Bay Bowl Assoc. (Outback)||$5.9 million (+18%)||$863,222 (+4%)||2014-15|
|San Diego Bowl Assoc. (Holiday/Poinsettia)||$4.3 million (+2%)||$343,718 (+4%)||2014-15|
|Gator Bowl Association (TaxSlayer)||$4.1 million (+8%)||$426,187 (+6%)||2014-15|
|Liberty Bowl Festival Assoc.||$2.0 million (0%)||Not listed||2015-16|
|Music City Bowl||$1.8 million (+64%)||$414,096 (+5%)||2014-15|
|New Orleans Bowl||$1.7 million (+13%)||Not listed||2013-14|
|Sun Bowl Assoc.||$794,829 (-20%)||$186,462 (+4%)||2015-16|
|Tangerine Sports Assoc. (Russell Athletic)^||$720,932 (-55%)||$459,756 (+8%)||2014-15|
|DC Bowl Committee (Military)||$399,750 (+59%)||$257,722 (-6%)||2014-15|
|Mobile Alabama Bowl (Dollar General)||$140,734 (-56%)||$100,000 (0%)||2014-15|
|Independence Bowl Foundation||$-582,512 (-905%)||$101,000 (-14%)||2014-15|
|San Francisco Bowl Game Assoc. (Foster Farms)||$-769,619 (-285%)||$315,121 (+2%)||2014-15|
* Orange Bowl CEO Eric Poms' total compensation declined because of a smaller bonus in 2014-15 ($143,278) than in 2013-14 ($397,171). His base pay increased by $5,292 in 2014-15.)
# The Fiesta Bowl paid $876,349 to former director Robert Shelton and $200,750 to new director Mike Nealy in 2014-15.
^ The Citrus Bowl and Russell Athletic Bowl are run by director Steve Hogan, who received $459,756 in total compensation and not multiple payments of that amount.
Source: 990 tax forms on Guidestar.org. Tax records are not available for privately-owned bowls. The Liberty and New Orleans bowls did not list compensation for their directors.