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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 26, 2010

BCS cash flows to softball fields, too

By Ferd Lewis

The Alabama Softball Complex and football's revered Bryant-Denny Stadium could hardly be more distant on the spacious University of Alabama campus.

Yet, the two are inextricably linked as the University of Hawai'i is reminded in its visit to Tuscaloosa for Friday's NCAA Softball Super Regional.

That's because the money that flows from the Crimson Tide's Bowl Championship Series membership enriches every corner of the vast Alabama athletic empire, even softball.

It is hardly a coincidence that 13 teams from BCS conferences are in the NCAA Sweet 16 and UH is one of only three from the "have not" leagues.

Only 15 percent of the berths in the past five super regional fields have been filled by non-BCS representatives. This despite the fact that BCS conference schools make up less than 25 percent of those playing Division I softball.

So, the Rainbow Wahine getting to this best-of-three series is quite an accomplishment. Doubly so since it is their second advance to the super regionals in four years, one of just two non-BCS teams to do so in that span.

But history suggests the odds of getting much beyond are decidely uphill. No non-BCS school has gotten to the title game since 1998, when Fresno State won the national championship. It was also the year the BCS was born. Five had gotten there in the previous 12 years and seven in 16 years.

A big reason for the change is the disparity in BCS money. The six automatic qualifying conferences received, on average, $19.2 million this past season. The non-qualifiers got an average of $4.8 million.

That kind of money pays for a lot of facilities upgrades, coaching salaries and more. Keep that up over a couple of decades and you understand how the cash-rich schools have managed to pull away.

For example, according to a national survey, the average salary for a softball head coach in the Western Athletic Conference is $75,000. In the Southeastern Conference it is $120,000; in the Pac-10 it's $140,000.

UH coach Bob Coolen said he sees larger, more visible reminders of the disparity. The Rainbow Wahine played in the 2007 super regional at Tennessee. Soon after, Coolen said, the Volunteers plowed $3 million in renovations into their facility.

Then, there is Alabama's 3,095-seat complex, built in 2000 and enhanced several times. "In Alabama, we will be playing in one of the top facilities in the country," Coolen said. "The BCS schools do a nice job of upgrading their facilities, building things that we just can't compete with."

Which is part of why just one non-BCS school has hosted a super regional in the past five years and Alabama is hosting a third in as many years.