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Notre Dame eyes possibilities for potential BCS payout

Claire Heininger | Tuesday, November 29, 2005

PALO ALTO, Calif. – After biting his lip through the tense final minutes of Notre Dame’s 38-31 victory over Stanford Saturday night, University President Father John Jenkins stood on the Irish sideline watching the final seconds expire and smiled a $14.8 million grin.

That’s about how much Notre Dame stands to gain if it is selected for an at-large bid to a Bowl Championship Series game this season – the first of Jenkins’ presidency and the last in which Notre Dame’s BCS agreement calls for the University to collect a sum that large.

Final BCS pairings for the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls will be announced Dec. 4, and Notre Dame isn’t guaranteed a bid. But the 9-2 Irish, ranked eighth in the BCS, appear on several analysts’ lists as a favorite to earn a $14.8 million Fiesta or Orange spot – and Notre Dame officials said the school has begun to consider how its potential payout would be spent.

“It’s a nice problem to have,” said Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves, the University’s third-ranking officer whose chief responsibility is to oversee Notre Dame’s financial matters. “We first have to get invited … but it will be great if it happens.”

Any millions the BCS deposits into Notre Dame’s coffers – minus University expenses for team travel to the January game – would be spent on academic initiatives such as buffeting financial aid, fulfilling infrastructure needs for classrooms and equipment and continuing construction on the Jordan Hall of Science, Affleck-Graves said Monday.

The Officers of the University, led by Jenkins, Affleck-Graves and Provost Thomas Burish, would convene to “discuss what the most compelling needs of the University are,” Affleck-Graves said. “It’s what we’ve done historically. …It’s a balance.”

A balance that likely would not include the football program or the athletic department, he said. Since bowl payouts are added into the University’s central budget – which tops $650 million annually – they are used like any other income to meet Notre Dame’s overall needs, rather than being specifically directed into football or other athletic expenditures. That separates the University from many other schools that funnel much of their bowl money straight back into their athletic departments. Notre Dame’s athletic department budget is housed within the University’s overall budget.

“I’m not going to prejudge that none of that [BCS] money would go to athletics, but I doubt it,” Affleck-Graves said, adding that Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis – who signed a new contract with the Irish through 2015 on Oct. 29 – would not have input on the money’s distribution.

“That’s not a decision that involves Coach Weis,” Affleck-Graves said of the first-year head coach, “other than winning the game.”

That game would represent Notre Dame’s last foreseeable chance to receive such a generous payout, as adjusted BCS rules next season guarantee the University $4.5 million when it plays in a BCS game and $1.3 million in seasons when it does not, according to the BCS Web site. With the number of BCS games increasing to five for the 2006-07 season, Notre Dame will be guaranteed an at-large bid if it is ranked eighth or better in the final BCS standings – unlike this season, which requires the Irish to rank at least sixth to receive an automatic BCS bid. Currently, the Irish are eligible for – but not guaranteed – an at-large bid because at No. 8 they rank higher than the required No. 12 and have earned nine wins.

University spokesman Matt Storin declined to speculate last week about whether the reduced future payouts would affect Notre Dame’s precedent of using BCS money for academic initiatives. The fact that this is the last year Notre Dame could earn upwards of $14 million will not affect the Officers’ decision-making about money distribution, Affleck-Graves said.

If Notre Dame is selected for a BCS bowl on Dec. 4, those distribution discussions will likely begin by the end of this semester, Storin said.

As the only independent major football program, Notre Dame does not have to share its BCS earnings with a conference, an arrangement that will continue amidst the BCS changes.

The University has used its bowl game earnings primarily for financial aid every year that it has played in a bowl since 1987, when it received $2.2 million for playing in the Cotton Bowl. For its most recent BCS appearance, the Fiesta Bowl following the 2000 season, Notre Dame received $13 million, the biggest bowl payoff in University history.