December 20, 2007

Now is the season of giving in college football

The NCAA now is allowing universities to give football players money.

Really.

No, NCAA president Myles Brand didn't go on a guilt trip and decide to share some of the millions that college football generates with the guys who actually play the game. Rather, each year at this time, the NCAA makes like Santa Claus and approves gifts to those who have been good good enough to qualify for a bowl, that is.

By reaching bowls, players get additional practice time, another game, great gifts from the bowls and perhaps most important a little cash.

NCAA by-laws allow for programs competing in the postseason to provide student athletes for travel expenses from their hometown to the site of the bowl in lieu of team transportation.

Those transportation expenses could be paid through mileage at whatever rate the university pays its employees, which could mean a hefty check for some players and next to nothing for others, depending on the bowl.

Every year in the bowl season, groups of players share expenses and pile into trucks, vans and cars and drive to the site of their bowl. That way, they're able to keep as much money as possible.

After all, when lodging, books and meals already are provided, a smart guy can make a few hundred dollars go a long way.

In some cases, players could get several hundred dollars, maybe even a grand.

For example, Maryland, which faces Oregon State on Dec. 28 in the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco, obviously has most of its players from the East Coast. Running Lance Ball is from Teaneck, N.J., which Yahoo! Maps estimates is 2,911 miles from San Francisco.

If Maryland reimburses its employees, say, 40 cents per mile, then the university theoretically could cut Ball a round-trip check for $2,324.80.

That's "theoretically" for a couple of reasons.

NCAA by-law 16.8.1.2.1 states: "An eligible student-athlete may receive actual and necessary travel expenses to represent the institution in athletics competition, provided the student-athlete departs for the competition no earlier than 48 hours prior to the start of the actual competition and remains no more than 36 hours following the conclusion of the actual competition even if the student-athlete does not return with the team."

Even with a carload full of players sharing driving duties, there is no way a cross-country trip from New Jersey to San Francisco will take only 48 hours. Plus, Maryland officials, concerned about their athletes' well-being, don't even want players to be tempted to try it.

A year ago, Maryland paid players mileage to travel to Orlando for the Champs Sports Bowl matchup with Purdue. This season, the school chose to charter a flight to transport the entire team.

"Ralph (Friedgen, Maryland's coach) doesn't want guys driving all night with four or five in the car," Maryland spokesman Shawn Nestor said. "If it was close, like Florida, we would do it.

"It's a concern for the players' safety. That's the primary reason we want everybody to go to and from the game on the charter. If it was something more manageable like a 10- or 12-hour drive it would be different, but going cross-country is not even close to be physically doable."

Three Maryland players from the West Coast won't be traveling round-trip with the team, so that trio actually will make some money.

Of course, there is also the opposite end of the spectrum.

Houston went 8-4 this year and the reward for the fine season was a spot in the Texas Bowl which is played in Houston.

The Cougars have players from Jacksonville, Fla., and Los Angeles, but the vast majority of the roster is from Texas. About two dozen of those are from the Houston area, which is at least a little spread out. At the 42 cents a mile that Houston reimburses its employees for mileage, those players can look to clear about 12 bucks. But at least when those guys are hanging out with teammates from Florida and L.A., you know who's buying.

TRIVIA

What Division I program has the most bowl victories?

ROOTING FOR THE RIVAL

A strange phenomenon occurs in bowls. Foes become friends, and rivals become advocates.

The bowls offer an opportunity for conferences to make cases for their strength.

The Big East often has been dismissed as an inferior league, and some detractors have even suggested its champion doesn't deserve an automatic spot in a BCS bowl. But the Big East made a powerful rebuttal last season when its teams went 5-0 in bowl games.

A strong showing by a conference team might even help another member later on.

Last season, SEC champion Florida blasted Ohio State 41-14 in the national championship game, and that lopsided victory might have helped 10-2 LSU win a spot in this year's national championship game over several other two-loss teams.

"In a way, that (Florida victory) showed the caliber of SEC teams, and in a way it probably helped us out," LSU senior strong safety Craig Steltz said. "Maybe it gave us the extra edge we needed with the voters."

Missouri was given no edge on BCS selection day. Despite beating Big 12 North rival Kansas, the Jayhawks were chosen for the Orange Bowl over the Tigers. But Missouri tight end Martin Rucker indicated that he still wants his Big 12 brethren to win.

"I'll probably root for KU," he said. "(KU safety) Justin Thornton is a good buddy of mine. We're from the same town, so that's not all bad."

Heisman Trophy recipient Tim Tebow of Florida said he'll support LSU in the national championship game against Ohio State. He said he'd even root for Georgia to win the Sugar Bowl.

But if Georgia was in the title game? Well, there are limits.

"I'd root for Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, but not in a national championship game," Tebow said.

Michigan tailback Mike Hart agrees that conference loyalty only goes so far. "I can't root for Ohio State," he said. "I could never root for them."

MAD IN MORGANTOWN

Some influential West Virginia boosters have expressed anger at the university administration and have threatened to withdraw donations after coach Rich Rodriguez left to become Michigan's new coach.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that prominent booster Bob Reynolds was considering withdrawing a $12 million pledge he made to the school.

The Post-Gazette also reported that Rodriguez asked for more money for his assistants, to be able to hire more support staff, for players to have the option to resell textbooks and to waive a $5 fee for each high school coach attending a Mountaineers home game.

In a statement released by the West Virginia sports information department on Tuesday, Stephen F. Goodwin, chairman of the West Virginia Board of Governors, expressed support for the administration. He pointed out that last year, Rodriguez's salary was increased by 70 percent, his assistants received salary increases, a $2 million academic center was constructed and construction has started on a $6 million locker room renovation.

"There were some very minor issues that (Rodriguez) raised with the administration and people were working on them. I think you will agree that the things that are being talked about are pretty minor in comparison to what has been done already," Goodwin said in the statement. "But he clearly was looking for an excuse to leave he looked last year and again this year."

QUICK HITTERS

  • Northwestern named Robert Gundlach interim athletic director, effective Jan. 1. Gundlach will remain in that position until someone is hired to replace Mark Murphy, who resigned earlier this month to take over as president of the Green Bay Packers.

  • Hawaii has sold more than 15,000 tickets for the Sugar Bowl and will have its largest postseason crowd ever on the mainland when it faces Georgia.

  • Colorado star cornerback Terrence Wheatley hasn't played since fracturing a foot on Nov., 3, but he has returned to practice and will play against Alabama in the Independence Bowl.

  • As many as 25 Florida State players could be suspended for the Music City Bowl against Kentucky and for three games next season in an academic cheating scandal.

  • Alabama offensive lineman Antoine Caldwell, one of five Tide players suspended in midseason for improper receipt of textbooks, says it's "50-50" whether he'll enter the NFL draft. He has started at every offensive line position except left tackle this season.

    Trivia answer

    Alabama has 30 victories in bowls. USC is second with 29.

    Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.




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