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  1. Opinion

Don't bank on College Football Playoff Championship's impact

Published Dec. 27, 2013

This is one of those rare instances where I have to admit just a tad of sympathy for an elected official playing fast and loose with numbers.

Poor Ken Hagan, who would probably admit he loves the smell of locker rooms in the morning. The Hillsborough County commissioner was euphoric when his participation in the effort to bring the 2017 College Football Playoff Championship game to Tampa paid off.

Just imagine all those superb college athletes, who probably can't even spell diploma, much less actually acquire one, arriving in our fair hamlet to pursue gridiron glory. It will be quite a boola boola event.

But wait! There's less.

In his excitement over attracting the championship game, Hagan claimed the clash of titans would generate roughly 2,000 jobs and pave the streets of Tampa in gold. The commissioner based his assertion on a couple of articles he admitted he had only "skimmed" attesting to the pile-driving economic engine a college title contest could visit upon a city.

Of course, such estimates are complete phooey.

In recent years, a virtual higher education cottage industry has evolved with numerous scholarly economists conducting study after study repeatedly proving the notion of a sports event translating into a mother lode of economic impact is at best a myth and at worse a con job.

One of the leading experts is University of South Florida professor Philip Porter, who performed the academic version of the economic impact emperor with no clothes.

You would think a huge sporting event would generate a massive increase in spending. And thus Porter simply analyzed sales tax receipt figures for Super Bowls and learned there was no discernible surge in sales taxes during the annual NFL bacchanalia. In short, a high-profile sports event is, to put it kindly, an economic wash for a city.

And yet, despite a solid and growing amount of data to the contrary, public officials like Hagan persist in inaccurately claiming a Super Bowl or a college football championship game will generate impressive job growth and profits for the host city. Poppycock, but understandable poppycock.

It is certainly arguable that having the NCAA football championship come to Tampa will be a nice thing. The city will get a week or so of free publicity, and who can complain about that? And the hors d'oeuvres are to die for.

Alas, Hagan cannot admit that the festivities leading up to the game will be a really great party (read: open bars), people will have some fun — and that's about it.

And as one who is all in favor of open bars, who can quibble with Hagan's quest to woo the title game to Tampa?

After all, you couldn't very well expect a sitting county commissioner to say something like: "Even though the NCAA championship game won't do diddly to our bottom line and even though it might only create a handful of jobs, and not ones with much of a future at that, having the event here will look really swell on television and the catering will be fabulous."

Elected officials are supposed to be all about monetary returns influencing their decisions, not martinis.

Nevertheless, politicians continue to tout NCAA tournaments and Super Bowls as if they were civic Powerball lottery tickets.

Indeed, about the only employment these events have created are the growing numbers of academics dedicated to refuting the inflated numbers. Now there's some job security for you.

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