College Basketball Nation: College Sports Business

At various points in the past five years -- including this week -- as foreboding superconferences have lurked on the horizon and outcry against the NCAA's amateurism model has reached a fever pitch, some coaches and plenty of analysts have pondered the notion of a post-NCAA NCAA tournament. What would happen if a wave of power-six leagues decided they were going to establish their own postseason, a la the college football system?

John Calipari spitballed something along these lines back in 2011, arguing that the only way to make "pay-for-play" work was for the large schools who could afford it to create their own postseason tournament. Getting to a place where players can be semi-fairly compensated and get a good education sounds like a dream, but Calipari's thought experiment struck as cold. Not only would it necessitate the inclusion of bad high-major/superconference teams that frankly no one wants to watch in March, but it would effectively kill the secret sauce that has fueled the NCAA tournament's historic rise: Cinderellas.

Because, hey, Cinderellas are awesome, right? This should be a no-brainer. In fact, it is not.

[+] EnlargeZach Hahn
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImageHaving two Cinderellas face off in the Final Four, like Butler and VCU did in 2011, nearly doubled the TV audience for the game, according to one study.
There is another, smaller strain within the sport that isn't sure whether Cinderella should always be welcome to the ball. The 2011 Final Four was a good example. The miracle Final Four runs made by Butler and VCU culminated in a semifinal showdown, and while this no doubt thrilled many (yours truly included), there were plenty of gripes both in the media room and outside it that the game would be bad for ratings, that big-name programs were always preferable, that the basketball would be so ugly as to draw scorn. When the basketball was ugly -- never more so than in Butler's national title matchup with UConn (honestly, the box score should go in a museum) -- these suspicions seemed to be confirmed. And so the history of the 2011 Final Four was written.

When the 2012 Final Four gave us Kansas, Ohio State, Louisville and Kentucky, the general consensus was glee. The large markets and large fan bases had returned. The ratings would jump. The basketball would be better. The future NBA stars would be on display. The casual fan would frolic among us once more!

According to a new study by BYU statistics professor Scott Grimshaw, that whole notion is totally wrong.

Turns out, people happen to really like Cinderella stories! And that's not just them saying so before sneaking off to watch more Anthony Davis highlights. Those people vote with their feet. According to Grimshaw's findings, which he based on 10 years of Nielsen TV ratings in 56 American markets:
... "a NCAA Men’s Final Four game featuring a Cinderella team, or an underdog from a smaller school, will have a 35 percent larger TV audience than a game featuring two national powerhouse schools. That 35 percent jump translates to 3 million more viewers for a semifinal game and 4.5 million more for the championship game."

That is a huge leap. There's more:
The jump in ratings is even bigger when two Cinderella teams face off in the Final Four. Nearly 11 million households tuned in when Virginia Commonwealth met Butler in a 2011 semifinal game. Without their respective Cinderella labels, the model predicted an audience of only 6.4 million.

Although a championship game featuring two Cinderella teams hasn’t happened yet, Grimshaw’s model extrapolates that it would result in an 81 percent larger audience.

So much for the "everyone hated the 2011 Final Four" meme, huh? Sheesh.

As Grimshaw explains in the BYU release accompanying his paper's publication, previous research on the NFL and English Premier League held that fans tuned in for three identifiable things: big-market teams, recognizable stars and close games. This is the conventional wisdom regarding almost all sports on television, and it makes sense. But Grimshaw's paper was "myth-busting," he says, because it showed that college basketball viewership worked in different ways. Only close games pressed hoops viewers' dopamine nodes in the same ways as other sports; individual stars and big markets had very little correlation to ratings.

What a relief.

For a few years now, the prevailing notion -- that there is a dichotomy between what makes the tournament emotionally interesting for die-hard fans and what makes viewers tune in -- has unwittingly pitted the classic fun of the NCAA tournament against market "reality." That same dichotomy is at work when people talk about the pay-for-play setup eschewing small schools, about high-major conferences breaking off on their own; it's the same one that said the NCAA tournament could expand to 96 teams and not lose anything in the process. More big schools equals more viewership, right? And why do we need the little guys, again?

Thanks to Grimshaw's research, those of us who would push back against this notion have more than adorable nostalgia in our quivers. We have the marketplace imperative. People love Cinderella stories. They make the NCAA tournament special. They also what make the NCAA tournament money. How's that for a win-win?

(Updated and related: Bylaw Blog's John Infante has an interesting examination of the look an eventual split-level college sports reality might take. Worth a read.)
Last week, on July 1, when a score of schools officially became members of their new leagues, a three-year wave of conference realignment stopped being prospective and started getting real. This week, we explored every nook and cranny of these changes, and what they will mean for college basketball going forward.

In the time-honored ICYMI Internet tradition, then, here's a recap of our series on the new realignment reality. Become a bonafide realignment expert with these easy steps!
Last but not least, here's a handy nuts and bolts guide to every conference change taking effect into 2013-14. Enjoy the weekend, everyone.

'Catholic 7' eyes TV deal

January, 6, 2013
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The seven Catholic schools that plan to leave the Big East to form their own basketball conference expect a windfall from a new television deal, writes ESPN's Darren Rovell.

The NCAA tournament, a.k.a. The Greatest Sporting Event in the History of Sporting Events and Everything Else, will hit a rather remarkable milestone later this season -- the 2013 edition will be the 75th anniversary of the competition. For a tournament that spent much of its early life playing second fiddle to the NIT, 75 years is an impressive accomplishment, and there's little doubt the tournament is on stronger ground now than ever before.

In honor of its flagship tournament's dodranscentennial (say that five times fast) anniversary, the NCAA is breaking form with a similarly inequitably distributed, outdated governing elite and not hosting its own Diamond Jubilee. Probably a good choice. Instead, on Tuesday morning the NCAA launched its first foray into all-time lists of tourney superlatives -- the "Top 75 All-Time March Madness Players, 25 All-Time March Madness Teams and 35 All-Time Madness Moments." You can see the complete lists here, at the NCAA's web site.

At first, I assumed these lists were the final word, which made me wonder why they were released in the middle of a dreary mid-December finals week. Alas, that's because these lists are merely the start of the conversation. In early January, fans will be able to vote for the top 15 players, as well as the No. 1 team and No. 1 moment in the tournament's lifespan. And if there's one thing I know about college basketball fans on the Internet, it is when their favorite school's history is a matter of debate and/or democracy, they show up.

Which brings us, of course, to the lists themselves. The natural impulse is to comb for flaws, but I'm having a hard time finding them. That might be because 48 of the NCAA's 75 tournaments took place before I was born. There may be an omission or two that I just can't see. (I would love to get Hoops' thoughts on some of the earlier selections. Actually, I love to get Hoops' thoughts on just about anything.)

But I've done a fair bit of historical hoops homework myself, and as I scanned the great players, teams and moments, I felt exactly how this list should make a basketball fan feel: Like I was reading a quick but comprehensive snapshot of the history of college basketball in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Of course, that doesn't mean we can't argue. I'm sure Indiana, Duke, UCLA and North Carolina fans (whose teams have the most players on the list by a considerable margin) could spend the rest of the morning declaring their all-time players superior to all others. I'm sure Kentucky fans will have something to say about seeing just four Wildcats on the list. I'm sure there are a few title teams between 1996-97 and 2003-04 that believe they belong in the top 25.

You'll get your chance to vote in January. In the meantime, you may begin sharpening your rhetorical swords in the comments. I'm going to see if there's footage of the 1946-47 Holy Cross team on YouTube.

Bill Self comes around on stipends

October, 23, 2012
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There are a variety of reasons why the idea of providing college athletes with a yearly stipend -- or a "cost of attendance scholarship," whichever you prefer -- is fundamentally intractable.

As NCAA President Mark Emmert acknowledged to us at the NCAA tournament this spring, it isn't as easy as Emmert snapping his fingers and making a new rule, no matter how vocal he might be. The NCAA is a big, bureaucratic organization with 330-plus Division I members alone. Those members vote. They can block measures -- which is exactly what happened when the NCAA attempted to move on a $2,000 cost-of-attendance scholarship rule last January. Emmert has vocally supported the stipend rule, and has remained steadfast that it will eventually become codified NCAA law, but as long as 161 of 355 members are concerned about upsetting competitive balance among less-monied conferences and schools, it won't move forward.

And yet, it almost feels inevitable. Why? For precisely the reasons Bill Self described to the Kansas City Star Monday night:
“I used to be totally against it,” Self told The Star. “I used to be totally against doing anything other than room, board, books, tuition and fees. But I’ve changed. And the landscape has changed also. It was always big business; now it’s huge business.

“And when you’re sending players from the West Coast to East Coast to play sports, to miss more classes, and the schools benefit from that financially, why shouldn’t the people that are responsible for the business, and that would be the student athletes.”

I haven't taken a formal survey, but from what I can tell, Self's view is symbolic of where most sports fans stand on the issue right now. In the past two years, we've seen the NCAA sign a $14 billion NCAA tournament TV rights contract. We've seen leagues draw huge revenues from their own TV rights, both from rights deals and from their own upstart cable networks. We've seen schools realign on a near-constant basis, with little regard for geography or traditional rivalries, followed by frequent we're-just-doing-what's-best-for-our-bottom-line laments. We've ended up with a world in which San Diego State is soon to be a member of the Big East.

The NCAA doesn't control all, or even half of, these trends. They have come about as part of the landscape's natural evolution. But it is impossible to view this constant evolution -- driven almost entirely by money -- and not be somewhat offended by the idea that the very athletes generating all that revenue can't get an extra $170 a month for gas and pizza. Emmert realizes this. The wheels are in motion.

Again, there are reasons why it will be difficult. If you give $2,000 to football players, you have to provide it to water polo players and rowers and soccer players, and the same mid-majors that voted against the stipend are rightfully concerned about their athletics budgets' abilities to take on that kind of expense. They don't have Big Ten Network money rolling in, after all.

But even so, everyone in college athletics will eventually have come along for the ride. Or, let's hope so, anyway. A feeling of inevitability isn't the same as the genuine article. But despite its initial defeat, a stipend does feel like a matter of when, not if -- and the sooner the better.
Around the country, potential college athletes entering their first year of high school are doing so with new NCAA requirements hanging over their heads. The collegiate freshman class of 2016 -- meaning students who are beginning their freshmen year in high schools this fall -- will be required to finish 10 core courses before the beginning of their senior year of high school. This is a departure from the past, when students who had faltered (or just plain not done their work) could race to the finish in their final year of high school. The NCAA also bumped the minimum required core course GPA to 2.3, from 2.0, and lifted the minimum GPA for junior college transfers from 2.3 to 2.5.

While these may seem like incremental changes, they are in fact rather sweeping, especially considering the clock begins ticking immediately. Your friendly neighborhood ESPN.com college hoops reporters -- led by Dana O'Neil's reporting -- covered these reforms from a score of angles earlier this offseason. I spent time talking to a variety of secondary educators, from teachers at resource-strapped schools to administrators and coaches at elite high school outfits, to get a feel for the challenges they'll face in quickly bringing new students up to date. For some, this represents a monumental task, which is why the NCAA estimates that 43.1 percent of men's basketball players who enrolled in 2009-10 would not meet the 2016 academic standards. Whether you agree with the changes or not -- and many high school folks seem to agree that a 2.3 core-course GPA is fully achievable, provided everyone understands the requirements -- it is still a huge change.

It also, apparently, has collegiate faculty concerned. On the first day of Division I faculty representatives and athletics directors meetings in Grapevine, Texas, some faculty athletics representatives expressed the same concerns we heard often this summer, most frequently from coaches -- that the change would lead to a massive wave of players being ineligible in 2016:
As a member of the NCAA’s Academic Cabinet, John Bruno, the faculty athletics representative at Ohio State University, believes in the need for tougher academic standards for incoming athletes. But during Sunday’s meeting, he questioned whether the NCAA would face a barrage of waivers to prevent that from happening. Others questioned if ESPN and the other television networks are ready for a potentially watered-down spectacle. “There are forces at work that would like for these rules to not be as strict,” Bruno said.

That seems a bit overblown, even conspiratorial. And yes, full disclosure, I (obviously) write for ESPN ... but I find it hard to believe any television network, ESPN or not, would be able to exert influence over individual academics decisions made by the NCAA Eligibility Center. That's not na´vetÚ. It's just realistic. The rule is in place, and there's no going back now.

Bylaw Blog's John Infante, the Internet's go-to expert for all matters related to NCAA eligibility, responded today:
Many more initial eligibility waivers may be filed in August 2016, but that does not mean the NCAA has to approve. And between the combination of kids who “find a way” no matter what the requirements are and the fact that the new rules will not (or at least should not) keep prospects from enrolling in college, the long-term impact to the on-field or on-court product is likely to be minimal.

That seems more reasonable to me. There are major concerns about the class of 2016, and there may be a host of kids who didn't get the memo until it was too late. But it's still four years off. Coaches and athletics administrators at both the collegiate and high school level have every reason -- self-interest and the interests of their kids -- to make sure everybody understands what's required of them before there's no going back. And once that process begins, and the word is spread, and following classes have more time to realize the situation, the standards will become accepted and widely known.

At least, that's the goal. The first and most important step is awareness. The clock is already ticking.
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In May 2011, the Big East turned down a TV broadcast rights deal from ESPN reportedly worth $11 million per school -- annually. Rights fees for conferences had been on the rise, and conference leaders were sure waiting for a better offer would pay off in a big way.

That was before the Big East lost Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC. Before TCU announced it was joining the Big 12 instead of officially becoming a Big East member. And before West Virginia left the conference to join TCU in the Big 12.

True, the Big East has since added Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and SMU as full members, along with football-only members Boise State, San Diego State and Navy. But safety isn’t in numbers -- it’s in the revenue provided by the most lucrative TV deal possible.

Today’s announcement that CBS executive vice president Mike Aresco will become the commissioner of the conference confirms the Big East is making television a priority. Aresco has led programming for CBS since 1996, handling such negotiations as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and the 15-year SEC contract.

(Read full post)

Every day this week, your friendly neighborhood ESPN.com college basketball staff has been publishing stories about the current state of academics in college sports. We've discussed the NCAA's new initial eligibility requirements and their wide-ranging effects on college coaches, prospective players and secondary education personnel; delved into the overwhelmed and often flabbergasted inner-workings of the NCAA Eligibility Center; and checked in with the latest arguments on all sides of the Academic Progress Rate debate. It's been a fast, furious and (hopefully) informative week.

In case you missed any of it, or in case you share my completist tendencies, I compiled the links to each of this week's academics stories.

O'Neil: Two sides to eligibility divide: Dana introduces the general NCAA eligibility dynamic, and focuses on the divide in understanding between the NCAA staffers who implement the organization's rules and the coaches and players subject to them.

O'Neil: NCAA eligibility's judge and jury: "If you want to know how the eligibility sausage gets made," Dana writes, "these are the folks to talk to." The folks in question are the NCAA staffers assigned to the High School Review arm of the Eligibility Center, who revealed the organization's accepted standards for core courses, related the difficulty in approving hundreds of thousands of high school courses, and even let Dana see one of the more ridiculous high school quiz questions you'll ever see.

Pickeral: NCAA mum on UNC scandal: This spring, the NCAA imposed major penalties on North Carolina's football program as penalty for improper benefits and an academic scandal following a tutor. Since then, an internal school probe has revealed "54 AFAM classes were either 'aberrant' or 'irregularly' taught from summer 2007 to summer 2011 ... including unauthorized grade changes, forged faculty signatures on grade rolls and limited or no class time." As university officials insist the impropriety is an institutional issue, Robbi checks in on the still-simmering scandal.

O'Neil: Get a taste of this NCAA baloney: Dana immediately counters that idea, arguing that if there is any situation that should prompt the NCAA to take punitive measures for a school's academic progress, it is this one -- despite the NCAA's apparent unwillingness to do so.

Pickeral: Counselors feel the pressure: The NCAA's steadily increased focus on academic progress has put pressure on coaches and players, but it has also increased the importance of academic support staffs at universities. Robbi discovers that major schools' support staffs have steadily added personnel, and the stakes have never been higher.

Brennan: High schools take notice: Beginning with the incoming class of 2016, high school freshmen who could one day play college sports will be held to new academic standards. Chief among them is a requirement that prospective athletes complete 10 of their 16 core courses before their senior year -- meaning players will need to mind their eligibility status from the time they enter high school as freshmen. That process begins this fall. I asked secondary educators, coaches and guidance counselors what they made of the new rule, and wondered whether the message would be received -- particularly at financially strapped public schools -- in time.

King: Well-intentioned APR has its critics: Criticisms of the NCAA's APR rule are nothing new, but as the rule has evolved, so has the reaction. Jason checks in with a variety of college coaches to get their thoughts on the rule, most of which are positive -- with caveats, of course.

Medcalf: Poor schools feeling brunt of APR: Historically black college and universities and other resource-strapped small schools have different missions from many of their Division I counterparts, and can't afford the deep pool of academic staffers available to high-major programs. Myron discusses why such schools are disproportionately affected by the NCAA's academic standards, and what the organization is doing to lessen the divide.

Bilas: Case for getting rid of the APR: Mr. Bilas has long argued that the NCAA's academics standards are more about optics than actual academic progress, and anyway, shouldn't individual institutions be free to decide who is qualified to enroll and who isn't? You may not disagree -- a cynical imbalance in competition seems like an inevitable result of this approach -- but as always, Jay's arguments are drenched in persuasive logic.

Commentary: How to game NCAA's APR: Want to know how athletic programs game the Academic Progress Rate? Gerald S. Gurney and Richard M. Southall, professors at Oklahoma and North Carolina, respectively, lay out the various tricks academic advisors and coaches use to stay on the right side of the APR ledger, many of which defeat the APR's stated purpose. Essential reading.

O'Neil: It's still about the kids ... right?: "I have spent the better part of the past month trying to get my arms around the commingling and occasionally conflicting world of academics and athletics in college sports. Here's what I know for sure: It's complicated." That's the first sentence of Dana's series-closing column on the state of NCAA academics, wherein Dana balances the good intentions of the NCAA with the very real possibility that it could leave behind kids for whom a shot at college basketball could be their only way to a better life.

There will be much to watch in the NCAA academics space in the years to come, as reforms move forward and their effects come into clearer view. Stay tuned. For now, happy reading.
For most of the past two years, conference realignment has been about two things: football and football money. But as we’ve seen in this year’s major Big East, Atlantic–10, and Colonial shuffles, the trickle-down effects of football-oriented realignment have begun to directly affect the positioning of basketball-dominant schools.

The loudest kvetching of the spring centered on Butler’s move to the Atlantic–10, where some believed the Bulldogs would need to change to compete. As we’ve detailed before, that seems unlikely. Butler is good enough to play in the Atlantic–10 already. The Bulldogs will be fine.

[+] EnlargeStew Morrill
AP Photo/Colin E BraleyStew Morrill shouldn't have to worry about schedule strength when Utah State moves to the Mountain West Conference.
But what about Utah State? Arguably the most underrated mid-major program west of the Mississippi, Stew Morrill’s Aggies have toiled in relative obscurity for much of the past decade, routinely fielding top teams (beloved by efficiency geeks everywhere) that have just as routinely been held back by affiliation with the WAC. Utah State has never been able to convince top programs to come to Logan for true road games, so it has often ended its seasons with lots of wins and little respect from the NCAA tournament selection committee.

That’s about to change. In 2013, Utah State will move to the Mountain West, which has for the past two seasons been the best conference on the West Coast, Pac-(10)12 included. Morrill spoke with Salt Lake Tribune writer Tony Jones about next year’s move, and the benefits are obvious: Utah State gets to play UNLV and New Mexico every season, not to mention fellow realigners Nevada and an emerging program in Colorado State, which just hired an experienced head coach in Larry Eustachy.

UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood is thrilled with the addition, and understandably so:
“Having Utah State in the conference greatly lessons the blow of losing San Diego State,” UNLV Athletics Director Jim Livengood said. “I believe that they can come in and compete right away with anyone. The staff is great, and anyone who has played against Stew Morrill knows that it won’t be an easy time of it. Utah State is going to help the Mountain West and the Mountain West is going to help Utah State. This is the perfect marriage.”

But as Jones writes, there are also potential drawbacks. Utah State won’t have to worry about scheduling anymore, because it will always have the likes of Mountain West play to fall back on, and high-major teams should be more willing to schedule the Aggies with the essential guarantee that Utah State’s (read: the WAC’s) RPI effects won’t come back to bite them. But Utah State also won’t be a big fish in a very small pond. To compete with the likes of New Mexico and especially UNLV -- where Dave Rice is recruiting top–25 players like the good old days -- Morrill will have to change his longtime routine, perhaps significantly.

If Morrill can do that, the Aggies should be able to hang tough in the Mountain West. If he can’t -- if Utah State essentially remains the same program, dropped into a much tougher league -- it’s possible the Aggies could lose much of their frequent NCAA tournament luster. Rather than mid-major darlings of the West, Utah State could be just another Mountain West team. Ho hum.

In many ways, Utah State might be the best distillation of conference realignment’s double-edged sword. Bigger conference, tougher opponents, more tournament bids, better seeding, more money? Great! Fewer trips to the NCAA tournament? Entirely possible.

Forget Butler. Over the next five years, the real costs and benefits of conference realignment will play out in Logan, Utah, where an excellent but underrated program is set to step into the big leagues. Where Morrill and Co. go from here remains to be seen, but the effects of that evolution -- or lack thereof -- will be fascinating to observe.
The dead-November era in college basketball is officially over. Last year gave us the Champions Classic (a four-team rotating tournament featuring Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State) and the season-opening Carrier Classic (the aircraft carrier game attended by President Obama, backgrounded by some of the more captivating images I've ever seen on live TV). This year, the naval ship game became an actual trend, as six other schools announced agreements to play in various docked U.S. Navy warships on or around Veterans' Day.

Now, as ESPN's Andy Katz reported Tuesday morning, Michigan State and Connecticut are set to take a real, regular-season college hoops game where it has never been before -- to an active U.S. Air Force and NATO base in Ramstein, Germany. From Katz's story:
Michigan State and Connecticut have agreed to play this year's college basketball opener at an overseas military base on Friday, Nov. 9, prior to Veterans Day. [...] The game would start late, sometime after 10 p.m. local time in Germany, for an early evening East Coast start time. It would be televised on ESPN.

"I asked my players if they wanted to do it and they were jacked,'' said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. "Has a college team ever played a regular-season game in Europe? I don't think so. It will be cool. We're going to a base in another country. That's pretty cool.''

For years, folks like yours truly have lamented college basketball's popularity, or lack thereof. It's a big sport, to be sure, and nothing captivates casual fans like the NCAA tournament, but the season before March often goes unappreciated by many. Why? A variety of factors: The intersection of college and NFL football during the winter months, the NBA's burgeoning popularity, the lack of dominant upperclassmen stars, you name it.

But one of the most frequently cited reasons -- perhaps the most frequently cited reason -- has been the whimper with which the college basketball season has traditionally begun. The first few weeks of November brought exhibitions and guarantee games and little more. None of it really registered. If the sport couldn't come together to figure out a way to open the season in style -- to give casual viewers and neutral fans some reason to get attached to these teams before February -- surely the sport was deservingly destined to remain an infrequent curiosity.

Clearly, that is no longer a problem. If anything, the sport may be in line for a minor backlash. After all, there are only so many games you can play on naval ships on Veterans' Day before the intended gesture starts to feel more cynical than sincere.

But at least you can't blame college basketball for a lack of effort. Some of its biggest programs (particularly Michigan State, where athletic director Mark Hollis has done as much as anyone to put these things together) are forming some of the most intriguing early-season matchups we've seen in years, with obvious casual-fan appeal baked into the recipe. It won't morph college hoops into the NFL anytime soon, but hey, it can't hurt.
The Atlantic Coast Conference’s television contract extension with ESPN, announced Wednesday, is the first of three major conference deals expected to be finalized in the next few months.

The ACC contract was extended after the addition of new members Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh last September. The shifting of schools as part of conference realignment also led to changes in the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference that has those existing deals in play, too.

The ACC deal is worth $3.6 billion over the next 15 years, according to The Associated Press. That puts the ACC behind only the Big Ten and Pac-12 in terms of the average revenue per school, per year by one measure (viewing all current contracts divided between conferences’ 2012-13 membership.)

SportsBusiness Daily has reported the Big 12 has verbally agreed to a new contract with ESPN and FOX for its first-tier rights for $2.6 billion over 13 years. That would bring the per-year average for the Big 12 to $200 million and the per-school, per-year average to $20 million. The SEC is expected to reopen its contract talks with ESPN following the addition of the University of Missouri and Texas A&M.

ESPN had no comment on any of the deals, which vary in what slate of rights are included, but a spokesman did say that the network is in regular contact with its business partners.

With all of the shuffling and extensions, it can be hard to keep up. Here’s a listing, according to information from The Associated Press, SportsBusiness Daily, SportsBusiness Journal and Adweek, of where things stand now. The Big 12 extension is not included because it has not been finalized. Also, per-year averages and per-school, per-year averages are straight averages and do not take into account actual variances by year as stipulated in individual contracts.

(Read full post)

Analysts and Vegas oddsmakers may be giving an edge to Kentucky in its Final Four matchup with Louisville on Saturday, but off the court the Cardinals may walk away as the big winner, regardless of the score.

It’s quite likely Louisville will end up as the more successful program once dollars are counted. It’s happened before: Louisville’s net revenue from men’s basketball was higher than any other program in the country last year. At $27.5 million, it dwarfed Kentucky’s $6.5 million, according to NCAA data.

It would be easy to conclude that Louisville’s inaugural season in the KFC Yum! Center propelled the program to its revenue highs. But in Louisville’s last year at Freedom Hall, it still made $11.6 million more than Kentucky.

[+] EnlargeKFC Yum! Center
Mark Zerof/US PresswireThe KFC Yum! Center in Louisvile, Ky., seats 22,000 people.
What about the fact that Louisville sells alcohol at basketball games? The athletic department receives only 50 percent of concession revenue at KFC Yum! Center, which netted out to $421,000 last season.

The biggest difference between the schools comes in a category the NCAA calls “contributions,” which include donations to the athletic department, the majority of which come from the minimum donations people must make to be eligible for suites and other premium seating.

Louisville received more than $20.2 million in basketball-related contributions last year. Kentucky, which did not allocate by sport, received a total of $14.6 million for all sports combined.

In Freedom Hall, Louisville basketball’s previous home, it made $1.6 million on suite rentals and $10.8 million in ticket-related contributions. In its new arena, those numbers skyrocketed to $5.7 million and $17.2 million, respectively, last year.

How much is Kentucky making in suite rentals and ticket-related contributions? Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Rupp Arena doesn’t have a single suite for the University of Kentucky to sell.

While not uncommon (it’s the same at Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Texas A&M, for example), Kentucky is missing out on big money. Tennessee’s suites, added in 2008, each run $35,000 to $50,000 annually. At South Carolina, suites bring in $42,000 each.

Kentucky might not be missing out for much longer, though. The Arena, Arts and Entertainment District Task Force in Lexington has studied renovating Rupp Arena or building a new facility. One key component of the renovation plans would be suites for Rupp Arena. The demand would seemingly be there. During Rupp Arena’s 34-year tenure, Kentucky has led the nation 22 times in home basketball attendance.

The Wildcats’ contract with Rupp Arena expires in 2018, the same year the current renovations would be completed. But the renovations are not fully funded, and it might be two years before they could begin.

University of Kentucky president Eli Capilouto has not supported either a new arena or the renovation of Rupp, noting the campus has other priorities that may need state funding.
One of the most frequent sources of debate and disdain when it comes to college football’s Bowl Championship Series is the disparity between payouts to automatic-BCS-qualifying conferences and non-automatic qualifiers.

It turns out that gulf is just as big when it comes to NCAA distributions from March Madness.

Last year, the Big East brought home more men’s basketball tournament money -- $24.9 million -- than any other conference. The most a non-automatic-qualifier conference brought home was Conference USA, at $6.95 million.

Not much is likely to change this year, as 14 of the Sweet Sixteen teams hail from automatic-qualifying football conferences. Nine are from the Big East and Big Ten conferences.

Since automatic-qualifying conferences were formed in 1998, no school outside of those has won an NCAA men’s basketball national title, and every champion since 1967 would fit into today’s FBS conference lineup. Just three national championship games since 1998 have featured a team from outside such conferences.

Although March Madness produces revenue of $771.4 million a year, as compared to $162.5 million generated by the BCS’s television contracts, the majority of conferences receive more revenue from the BCS than from the NCAA’s Basketball Fund, as the table shows.

Schools from the six automatic-qualifier football conferences brought home 47.5 percent of all money distributed by the NCAA based on performance in the tournament, while the five non-automatic-qualifier conferences banked 10.5 percent. The rest went to teams whose conferences play football at a lower level. In football, the disparity is even starker: automatic-qualifier conferences took home 85 percent of all BCS money distributed last year.

March Madness is the primary revenue generator for the NCAA, so not all money is distributed based on performance in the tournament. For 2010-11, the NCAA distributed $452 million of the approximately $771.4 million produced by its television contract.

Just $180.5 million was distributed based on performance in the NCAA tournament through what’s called the “Basketball Fund.” An almost identical amount was distributed based on how many sports each school sponsors and how many grants-in-aid each supports. The remainder is distributed for academic programs and financial assistance for student-athletes.

The Basketball Fund portion of the NCAA’s distribution each year is based on how many units each team in the tournament earns. Each team in each game except the championship game receives a unit for playing. This year each unit is worth $242,000.

Money is distributed based on a six-year rolling period by adding up all of the units earned by each school during the preceding six years. Checks are cut to the conference, not the individual school which participated in the tournament, unless the school is independent. Each conference then chooses whether to divide the money equally or based on tournament performance.

The SEC has historically divided the money it receives into 13 equal shares, with the conference keeping one share, after reimbursing participating teams for travel and rewarding them for performance. In addition, schools receive $50,000 for participating in each round up to the Final Four and $100,000 for appearing in the Final Four.

The Big 12 distributed by an entirely different method in 2010-11. Each member institution was awarded an amount equal to the units the school earned in the current fiscal year. Revenue from units earned by members during the previous five years was divided equally among all members. The conference did not supplement travel or other expenses.
Thanks to the annual national phenomenon that is March Madness, we know all about VCU now -- Butler, Gonzaga and George Mason, too.

But what does such awareness mean for schools that were not quite in the national consciousness before a magical men’s basketball tournament run? Millions of dollars, significant increases in student applications and even smarter students, according to various studies.

No school can afford the kind of publicity a deep run into the tournament offers. Studies done by media firms Borshoff and Meltwater for Butler University after it reached the title game the past two years show a combined publicity value for the university of about $1.2 billion.

Butler’s 2010 run to the national title game resulted in $639.3 million in publicity value, including $100 million from the CBS broadcast of the national title game. Last year’s appearance was valued at more than $512 million. Neither calculation included the publicity value of radio broadcasts or talk shows, but instead focused on television, print and online news coverage.

The exposure cascades off-court, as experts point to a positive correlation between athletic performance and application rates. They call it the “Flutie effect” after quarterback Doug Flutie, who was credited with a 30 percent increase in applications at Boston College the year after his Heisman Trophy win.

A 2009 study by brothers and economics professors Jaren and Devin Pope showed that just making it into the men’s NCAA tournament produces a 1 percent increase in applications the following year. Each round a team advances increases the percentage: 3 percent for Sweet 16 teams, 4 to 5 percent for Final Four teams and 7 to 8 percent for the winner.

The only way to achieve similar application increases would be to increase financial aid or reduce tuition by 2 to 24 percent, the study said.

"These numbers tend to be larger for private schools than for public schools," co-author Jaren Pope said. "For example, private schools in the Sweet 16 see a 4 percent to 5 percent increase in applications compared to a 2 percent to 3 percent increase for public schools."

Butler University experienced a whopping 41 percent increase in applications after its 2010 run to the title game. George Mason University saw a 54 percent increase in out-of-state applications following its 2006 Final Four appearance. And within a month of being defeated in the first round of the 2000 tournament, Central Connecticut State University saw application rates increase by more 12 percent.

The impact of admitting more out-of-state students can be profound. For example, George Mason’s in-state tuition rate is $9,066 per year, while out-of-state tuition is nearly three times as much at $26,544.

Rising application rates also can allow a school either to increase enrollment or be more selective. The Popes’ study found that basketball success did not lead most schools to increase enrollment but did allow for increased selectivity.

The study concluded, “… schools which do well in basketball are able to recruit an incoming class with 1 to 4 percent more students scoring above 500 on the math and verbal SAT. Similarly, these schools could expect 1 to 4 percent more of their incoming students to score above a 600 on the math and verbal SAT.”
College basketball might be in for a bit of conference-tournament realignment. The issue, of course, is money -- and determining where conferences and host cities can make the most of it could force a few tournament-location changes in coming years.

College basketball tournaments are multimillion-dollar moneymakers for conferences and host cities. Some cities, like Las Vegas and New York, experience a windfall every year, but others like Atlanta and Kansas City are fighting to play host to tournaments more often. Other cities are simply trying to hang on to the tournaments that call them home.

The Big East’s tournament is one of the most successful each year and is in its 30th year at Madison Square Garden. And though it’s in the first year of a five-year extension at MSG, the conference appears close to signing a deal keeping it there through 2026.

Last year, the conference saw its most-attended tournament in total attendance and ranked second, behind the ACC, in average per-session attendance.

The ACC tournament, which annually ranks first or second in total attendance and average per-session attendance didn’t sell out this year ahead of tournament play, even though games are being held in the 19,300-seat Phillips Arena in Atlanta instead of the much larger Georgia Dome. The 2001 tournament in the Georgia Dome was the most-attended conference basketball tournament in NCAA history for both total attendance (182,625) and per-session attendance (36,605).

Big 12
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireThe Big 12's tournament has rotated between Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Dallas over the past decade, and its future location is not yet set.
The result? The Atlanta Sports Council estimated a total economic impact that year of more than $31 million. But when the Georgia Dome hosted the tournament again in 2009, the impact dropped to $22.9 million.

Dan Corso, executive director of the Atlanta Sports Council, said this year’s tournament will provide greater economic impact than in 2009.

“The economic impact this year, dependent upon how many visitors attend the event, is estimated at approximately $25 million,” said Corso.

The economic impact isn’t as profound for the Big Ten tournament, although it ranks in the top five in terms of attendance each year. John Dedman, Indiana Sports Corp.’s vice president for communications, said the total for the men’s and women’s tournaments in Indianapolis this week is expected to be $12 million to $15 million. “The majority of that economic impact is on the men’s side,” said Dedman.

By comparison, Dedman said the inaugural Big Ten Football Championship Game, which was held in Indianapolis in 2011, generated $17.7 million in economic impact.

The Big 12’s tournament has rotated between Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Dallas over the past decade. The future site is the source of much debate as Missouri leaves the conference for the SEC. The combined economic impact of both the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in Kansas City is $14 million.

The men’s tournament is in Kansas City through 2014, but the conference announced in November the women’s tournament would leave for Dallas in 2013 and play in Oklahoma City in 2014.

Another tournament potentially on the move is the Pac-12’s championship. Also a perennial top five in attendance in recent years, it is concluding an 11-year stint in Los Angeles this weekend. Commissioner Larry Scott confirmed this week that moving to Las Vegas or Seattle is possible, though there is also the possibility of staying in Los Angeles.

Las Vegas already hosts three conference tournaments: the Mountain West, Western Athletic and West Coast.

“We have not thought a lot about other leagues,” Scott said. “I think more about TV and what our TV windows would be and how they would match up.”

Mountain West coaches may be hoping the conference’s merger with C-USA will result in a new location for their conference tournament. The games are currently played on UNLV’s campus, which has caused some coaches concern over the possibility of a home-court advantage.

“I think it’s absolutely unfair,” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said during this week’s coaches’ teleconference. “It’s not done in any other major conference.

The Mountain West played its tournament at the Pepsi Center in Denver from 2004-06, but attendance paled in comparison to Las Vegas. The highest attended tournament in Denver drew a total of 37,300, whereas Las Vegas has averaged nearly 57,000 each of the past five years. Last year, the tournament drew a record high of 69,913.

In a 2009 study prepared for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the economic impact of the Mountain West tournament brought $6.4 million in non-gaming economic impact to Las Vegas.

Colorado State coach Tim Miles implies it’s the money that has really mattered in the choice of the host city.

“As coaches, we’ve asked for this to be changed and it’s been voted down each time,” Miles said. “When those kids get the bracket and the first thing they do is drop their head because they’re on UNLV’s side of the bracket, or they breathe a sigh of relief they’re not on UNLV’s side of the bracket, it really makes a difference.”

“You can’t tell me any of this was done in the best interest of the student-athletes.”

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