Duke's dollars reign in college hoops

Is there a correlation between how much money a college hoops program spends and how successful it is? Why yes. Yes there is.

That's the lesson from Brett McMurphy's analysis of spending in college basketball, which found that the Duke Blue Devils -- your 2009-10 NCAA champions -- spent the most of any athletic department on its basketball team during the 2008-09 school year. The Blue Devils' basketball budget was a cool $13.87 million, which was more than a third of the 66 BCS schools' football budgets in the same year. That's, like, a lot of money.

The Blue Devils aren't the only team willing to open the coffers for hoops, of course, and the correlation between success and dollars goes further: Ten of the top 12 schools in basketball expenditures in 2008-09 have gone to at least one Final Four since 2003. One of the missing schools is Kentucky, which went to the Elite Eight in 2009-10 and is clearly a program on the rise. The other school? Virginia. Where that money is going is something of a mystery, but the Cavaliers' $7.18 million hasn't translated to any on-court success in the recent past.

In other words, it pays to pay. The more a school spends, the better its coaches and facilities, which in turn means better talent, which ... well, you get the idea. That is, for all intents and purposes, how college basketball works.

Which is why it's even more amazing when a small mid-major school with a limited budget manages to replicate some of that elite success. For example: Butler. The Bulldogs spent about $1.7 million on hoops in 2009, approximately one-eighth of what the Blue Devils spent, and Butler was two rim-outs away from toppling the Dukies in the national title game in April.

Unfortunately, Butler is the exception and not the rule; it's extremely hard for the little guys to compete with the big boys. But thanks to the NCAA tournament's brilliant setup, and the way the college hoops stars can align ever so briefly, the sport occasionally allows for some measure of parity in the face of overwhelming inequality.

And, occasionally, money-fueled failure. Just ask Virginia.