On Sept. 20, 2003, the Mid-American Conference took center stage in the college football world as three of its teams beat nationally ranked opponents.
But while that Saturday was one of the biggest in MAC football annals, even that day may take a back seat to Dec. 5, 2004 - when five MAC schools officially received bowl-game invitations, an unprecedented number for this league of mid-majors.
For the MAC, getting five bowl bids in one season is a public-relations dream come true - and a financial bonanza.
"From a conference perspective, [getting five bowl bids] in a real way sustains the momentum of last year's great season," MAC commissioner Rick Chryst said last week.
The league had received two bids in the same year in each of the previous three seasons; for the 20 years before that, it was one bid only for the MAC.
So what does this new-found success mean to the league?
First, it means more money.
Every team that plays in a bowl game earns money for its conference. The MAC will receive a gross payout of $4.2 million from its five bowl bids. Toledo, which will play in Detroit's Motor City Bowl, and Bowling Green, set for the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Ala., each will contribute $750,000 of that payout.
Toledo athletic director Mike O'Brien said those numbers can be deceiving.
"When people see those numbers in the newspaper, that can be a little confusing as to who is getting what," he said. "Those are gross payouts, not net payouts."
The schools don't receive all that cash in a lump sum. The money is split within the conference, with each school - even those that don't go to bowl games
- getting an equal share. Some of the money is used to defray the costs schools incur while playing in the bowls.
Neither Chryst, O'Brien nor Bowling Green athletic director Paul Krebs would give details of how much money each school will receive, but typically conferences combine their bowl payouts, subtract expenses, then divide the remainder by the number of schools in the league.
For example, Bowling Green's berth in the GMAC Bowl means the MAC will receive $750,000. After the league gives BG $300,000 to cover expenses associated with the bowl, the league's 14 schools will divide the remainder, giving each school roughly $30,000.
For each of the other four bowl games, the distribution process is similar. That means each MAC team could receive around $150,000. In previous years, the payout probably was half that.
In addition, Toledo will be allowed to keep any revenue it generates from selling tickets to the Motor City Bowl game at Ford Field. Bowling Green, likewise, will keep its revenue from the sale of GMAC game tickets.
In the case of the Motor City Bowl, Toledo does not receive any league money to cover expenses. Instead it will pay them out of its ticket revenue.
Toledo's entire $750,000 payout goes to the MAC, and the Rockets will receive an equal share.
Both schools are selling bowl tickets for $45, with student tickets at $15.
With Detroit a 60-mile drive from Toledo, O'Brien said he hopes the school will sell as many as 10,000 tickets for the contest. Two years ago, he said, the school sold nearly 9,300 tickets for the game.
Krebs said his school has sold roughly 1,500 tickets for the GMAC Bowl and hopes to sell about 2,000. Last season, BG sold more than 7,000 tickets when it played in the Motor City Bowl.
But playing in a bowl game does cost money.
One cost comes from flying the team, coaches and support staff to the site. Instead of flying to the site the day before the game, which is the custom during the season, bowls require that teams arrive early to partake in the "bowl experience." That means extra expenses for hotel rooms and meals for everyone in the travel party.
In Bowling Green's case, the Falcons will travel to Mobile on Friday in advance of the game the following Wednesday, meaning six days of hotels and meals instead of the typical one-day expenses.
Krebs estimates that BG will spend roughly $300,000 on airfare, hotels, meals and bus transportation.
Bowling Green spent roughly $200,000 on hotel rooms, meals and bus transportation to compete in the Motor City Bowl last year.
Because the MAC does not have agreements with the other three bowls to which it is sending teams this season, Chryst said the three - Northern Illinois, Miami and Marshall - have made their own arrangements to pay bowl expenses.
"Once you get outside the BCS bowls and the bowls played Jan. 1, the bowls generally are a break-even operation" for schools, Chryst said. "We have distribution/reimbursement policies in place that guarantee our institutions break even or make money on a bowl trip."
Krebs and O'Brien said they are working to make sure their schools break even on bowl expenses. But Krebs is quick to point out that he isn't worried about making a profit on the game..
"We are thrilled to be playing in the GMAC Bowl," Krebs said. "We've heard nothing but great things about this bowl. And there are real benefits - a number of benefits - to a team playing in a bowl game."
More practices are one obvious benefit.
Another is a recruiting advantage that bowl exposure gives. When a recruit is choosing between schools, teams with winning records - and bowl berths - have a leg up on schools still trying to claw their way up the standings. Bowl bids also give teams a chance to show off their facilities to prospective players.
Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon said 14 recruits are on campus this weekend, "So this is a great chance to show those kids a college practice."
Perhaps the biggest benefit of a bowl bid is the excitement it can create on a college campus. Fans of the team get excited, with some buying tickets and traveling to the game.
The game itself puts the school's name in newspapers and on Internet sites that can be viewed around the country, which can spur an increase in enrollment.
And a bowl bid may spark prospective donors to give some money - or perhaps some more money - to a school.
"We have the best of both worlds," O'Brien said of his team's Motor City Bowl berth. "We're on a national stage with the television broadcast on ESPN, and we're only 45 minutes away so our fans can drive to the game and watch us play.
"The continual exposure for our program and our school is crucial. [The game] basically is a 3 1/2-hour infomercial. You cannot buy that kind of commercial."
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