Jerry Kill made it clear last week he doesn't care too much which bowl game the Gophers play in next month.
Easy for him to say. He's not in the band.
Yes, when the Gophers' destination and opponent is announced Sunday, band members and athletic department staffers and grad assistants' spouses may have the most at stake. Because one of the biggest differences between bowl assignments is the amount of money a team can spend to get there and stay there.
Minnesota's 6-6 record almost certainly will earn the university a trip to the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston's Reliant Stadium on Dec. 28, or to the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year's morning in the Cotton Bowl. Either way, the Gophers will face a Big 12 team, though which one depends upon who wins and loses the conference's full slate of games Saturday. (Meineke gets the sixth choice of Big 12 teams, Dallas the eighth; they'll choose from a pool that could include Texas Tech, Texas Christian, West Virginia, Baylor and Iowa State.)
The decision makes a difference in a couple of ways. For one thing, the Meineke Car Care Bowl offers far greater national exposure. It will be televised on ESPN on a Friday night, the only football game on at its 8 p.m. kickoff. The Heart of Dallas Bowl, on the other hand, will be televised on ESPNU, which far fewer homes receive, and it will compete against three other bowl games within an hour of its 11 a.m. kickoff.
In addition, the finances are completely different for the two bowls, starting with the payout: Meineke will pay each of its teams $1.7 million, the Heart of Dallas $1.2 million. (In both cases, those payouts have a catch; participating teams are required to buy thousands of tickets to sell to their fans.)
Big Ten teams pool all bowl money and split it equally -- after covering each team's expenses. And to discourage teams from overspending, the league puts limits on how much can be spent at each game; anything over that budget must be covered by the schools.
For a trip to Houston, the Gophers would be allowed to spend $1.5 million, while the budget to go to Dallas would be just $1.2 million, according to the Gophers athletic department.
Which is why decisions like whether the marching band buses to the game or flies, or how early the football team arrives, or whether some staffers or spouses come along, depend upon Sunday's announcement.
The Meineke Car Care Bowl, which conducted a conference call on Thursday, isn't letting on what its choice will be yet -- Minnesota and Purdue are its likely options, since 6-6 Michigan State appears headed to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. -- but executive director Heather Houston said Friday that "we love taking a team that's on an upswing. [The Gophers] have made great progress this year, they have a great coach and an energetic administration in place, and I believe fans will be excited about attending a bowl game."