College Basketball Nation: NCAA
Hey, everyone! You know what we can all agree on? I do! We can all agree that the NCAA is bad. Bad, bad, bad. How bad is up to you, of course. The gamut typically runs anywhere from "outdated and slightly silly product of 19th-century noblesse oblige to "modern slavery." Either way, the grumbling has long since graduated from complaints about violations to genuine outrage over the amateur model. This is a good thing. I agree! But sometimes we get a little carried away.
Case in point: The noise has gotten so loud that the man in the center of this mess, NCAA president Mark Emmert, has practically reached villain status, which is impressive, considering how hard it is to become a villain when you sit atop a boring bureaucracy whose stated mission is basically "education and sports, fun right?" Things have not gone well for Emmert since he took over in Indianapolis, from the Miami scandal that turned into an NCAA scandal to that combative April press conference to pretty much everything else. The struggle is too real.
But, that all said, here are three things worth keeping in mind when you talk about the President of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
2) Emmert hears you. He gets it. Sort of. I think.
"One thing that sets the fundamental tone is there's very few members and, virtually no university president, that thinks it's a good idea to convert student-athletes into paid employees. Literally into professionals," NCAA president Mark Emmert said Monday at Marquette University. "Then you have something very different from collegiate athletics. One of the guiding principles (of the NCAA) has been that this is about students who play sports."
That quote, from this story, was received Monday as "NCAA president says players will never be paid, twirls mustache, laughs maniacally," when really all it was was Emmert reiterating to the public that the NCAA has a place it will not even consider going. That place is "directly employing players." Obviously. Duh. The NCAA would rather be sued by 100 duck-sized Ed O'Bannons than think about actually paying players a salary. I don't know exactly why there is such solemn resistance to doing so, and maybe that will change if the facade continues to crumble. But this is not exactly news, you know? It's more like a reminder.
What Emmert didn't say is that the membership was opposed to all reform. In fact, his emphasis of what the membership wouldn't do seems to almost intentionally build a contrast. Maybe I'm reading too much into that. Maybe I'm wishcasting. But doesn't that seem like he's laying down basic framework for the debate to come? It does, right? Right?
Anyway, one more thing to remember:
3) The NCAA didn't create the NFL's, or the NBA's, age limits.
It's actually sort of shocking how often people seem to forget this. It's also shocking how often people forget that there are plenty of professional leagues in the world and that, if a player is good enough, he could probably get to the NBA just by working out with folding chairs for a year. (Word to Yi Jianlian.) But the point is the NCAA does not force anyone to go to college. The NBA and the NFL do. That is their prerogative as businesses. You can argue that players should have the right to earn money from the use of their own likeness whether they're a player at an NCAA institution or not, and that argument is a completely valid one.
But people always seem to forget that the percentage of everyone in college basketball, from the wealthiest coach on down, who would love to see the one-and-done rule wiped from this Earth is like 99.999. Maybe a clean 100.0. In the meantime, if college football players like Johnny Manziel have a serious philosophical issue with not being able to sign autographs for money — which is fair! — they can always choose not to play college football. Or organize on their own behalf. In practice, I realize, things are not that simple, especially for college football players. But you kind of have to know what you sign up for, right? And shouldn't the rest of us at least remember which organization is really to blame?
I'd like to clarify: None of the above is an argument on the NCAA's behalf. I don't really agree with Emmert, because once you get past my rhetorical needle-search, you see Emmert is a man making an argument on behalf of his employers that is essentially "because that's how it's always worked." Which is, I don't know, the worst argument ever? It's up there.
What the above is, like Emmert's hard line against employment, a mere reminder. "Emmert" doesn't equal "NCAA." The pro leagues have a part to play. And the NCAA membership seems to hear the waters rising around them. Think about college sports 30 years ago. Think about how often university presidents got together with the NCAA chief to gauge everyone's thoughts on paying players. Think about how out of place that conversation would have seemed.
Look at the NCAA now. If only barely, it appears the conversation it desperately needs to have -- the one about the type of survival it will be willing to accept -- is getting its alpha test.
A player must receive a written permission-to-contact letter from his current coach. He must have spent a full year in "academic residence" -- i.e., attending classes as a full-time, 12-credit-hours-or-insert-your-school's-equivalency student -- before he is eligible to get back on the court at his new school. There are "4-4" transfers and "2-4" transfers and different rules therein; there are issues involving full, partial, or non-qualifying academic status; and there are waivers and appeals you can make based on specific circumstances that can change the preexisting requirements, just like that.
How dizzying is this stuff? Here's the NCAA's brochure [PDF] for student-athletes interested in learning more about the transfer process. Ostensibly, this document was created to make the rules easy to understand and apply. It is filled with handy little case studies; it even has a glossary of important terms. And if you can read past the third page without help from prescription ADHD medication, well, I'd love to shake your hand. This stuff is brutal.
Which brings us to today's latest transfer news, reported by ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman:
Former Louisville forward Rakeem Buckles, who sat out last season at Florida International, will not be allowed to follow Richard Pitino to Minnesota, multiple sources told ESPN.
Buckles spent three seasons at Louisville and suffered two major knee injuries. He left the Cardinals and sat out last season at FIU, but decided to transfer to Minnesota and apply for a waiver to play immediately because Florida International was hit with a postseason ban by the NCAA for academic issues dating to the Isiah Thomas regime.
As Jeff writes, the surprise here stems from the fact that a player wouldn't be allowed to transfer away from a school that is currently not barred from the NCAA tournament for Academic Progress Rate violations. We've seen a handful of recent players in similar situations move to new schools and be eligible right away (see: Huskies, UConn). One of them is already working out in Minneapolis: Current Gophers guard Malik Smith, also formerly of FIU, transferred to Minnesota and was granted a waiver by the NCAA this summer. He'll play this season, but Buckles won't. Huh?
That's hardly the only confusing recent transfer news. Last week, Kerwin Okoro, a player transferring from Iowa State to Rutgers, was denied a hardship waiver by the NCAA. Okoro appealed to play immediately, as many players in recent seasons have, under the medical or family hardship "legislative relief" exemption (see what I mean?) after losing his New York City-based father and brother in the matter of two months last winter. But Okoro's appeal was denied, which raised red flags out in Rutgers, where the Star-Ledger has tried to divine why so many former Scarlet Knights were granted post-Mike Rice appeals this spring while Okoro, who is entering the program recovering from family tragedy, was not. The key quote from an NCAA spokesman:
"It’s not a formula. It’s not a math problem," NCAA spokesman Christopher Radford said. "The guidelines evolve and we see different circumstances and scenarios, and the guidelines evolve with that to make the process better and more efficient."
This comes amid the Star-Ledger's attempt to explain the transfer hardship/relief/whatever appeals process, and the various NCAA subcommittees each case passes through on each various appeal attempt. It all ends at the desk of the Legislative Council Subcommittee, which "may not even be burdened by the guidelines it has set for the NCAA staff."
"The subcommittee essentially can make whatever decision they think is the appropriate decision as a representative of the membership," Brooks said.
It would seem that Okoro is a textbook case, a player who left New York to play in the Midwest but felt compelled to return when his family suffered not one but two deaths in a brutally short period of time. We've seen plenty of relief appeals granted for far less in recent seasons, and while that may still happen in Okoro's case, it begs the question: What is the difference here? Where are the guidelines? How big is the box? Is it even a box in the first place?
The same goes for Buckles. This is not his first transfer, which changes things, because the NCAA has been concern-trolling about the purportedly destructive nature of player nomadism for years now. By attempting to transfer a second time after just one year at his previous school, Buckles faces a higher burden of academic proof. But even so, the circumstances of the case seem like a no-brainer: A player is leaving a school that is banned from the NCAA tournament and that now no longer even has a scholarship available for him to return to play one last year for his former coach at that coach's new school. And not only was his hope to play right away at Minnesota dashed, he was told he couldn't transfer at all. Maybe that aligns with the NCAA's rules on academic status for transfers. It's hard to know, because the player's privacy is worth protecting. But even if we're talking rules and not "guidelines" … why? Because that would be bad for Buckles? Even though he clearly disagrees? I know, I know, the NCAA is our last societal bastion of early-20th century class patriarchy. But really?
Simplify the transfer rules. Simplify the appeals guidelines. Simplify the rules. This was among NCAA president Mark Emmert's primary goals when he took on the job of representing the NCAA membership, and he has managed to streamline other areas of the rulebook. There are now more straightforward (and strict) punishments for violations, less confusion about texting recruits, no penalties for eating cream cheese, etc. etc. But the transfer rules remain.
There is some movement on this front: Last November, the Division I Legislative Council’s Subcommittee for Legislative Relief (no joke, that's what it's actually called)* changed the guidelines for hardship waiver requests in an effort to make application thereof more consistent. Clearly, that hasn't worked out too well, but it's something -- and indicative of a larger effort to make transfers less of a thorny mess.
In a perfect world, players would have as much personal agency as the men paid handsomely for marshaling their talents. In a perfect world, the NCAA wouldn't need to create 20-page pamphlets to educate students on transfer rules, because those rules would be so simple as to be intuitive. In a perfect world, the NCAA wouldn't feel the need to tell 22-year-old men and women it knows what's better for their academic futures than they do.
We do not live in a perfect world, unfortunately, and some of the above will never happen, at least not as long as the NCAA is still kicking. But the current system is at best poorly misunderstood and at worst irreconcilably broken. Either way, it's time to start over.
*Oh, and while we're at it, can you guys stop naming things the Division I Legislative Council’s Subcommittee for Legislative Relief? Call it the Appeals Group. Rebrand. Football Group. Basketball Group. Rules Group. Investigations Group. Enforcement Group. Whatever.
Rebrand, guys. Communicate simply, clearly, declaratively. It really doesn't have to be this hard.
It feels like we've seen more and more of these hardship requests in recent seasons; it is not at all infrequent to hear news of a player wishing to transfer closer to home to be near a sick relative. For example, on Thursday, the NCAA denied Seton Hall transfer Sterling Gibbs' hardship waiver request. Gibbs had hoped to be eligible at Seton Hall as early as this season, citing the health of a family member as his primary reason for the move.
So, in the wake of Mark Emmert's discussion of transfers on this week's Outside the Lines, I thought it might be pertinent to a) see exactly how often the NCAA approves or denies hardship waiver requests and b) clarify how the NCAA actually decides such cases.
First, the numbers. What follows are the overall numbers for all hardship waiver requests -- including, but not limited to, requests related to the health of a family member -- in Division I athletics over the past five seasons (April 2007-April 2012).
Graduate transfer requests are fairly straightforward: If a player has graduated with eligibility and wishes to pursue a final year at a school that offers a post-graduate program not offered by his former school, the NCAA almost always approves the status. But undergraduate hardship requests are met with much more resistance:
Overall (all Division I sports):
Graduate student transfer waivers (past five years):
20 approved with conditions
Undergraduate transfer waivers (past five years):
19 approved with conditions
Graduate student transfer waivers:
Undergraduate transfer waivers:
Graduate student transfer waivers:
Undergraduate transfer waivers:
As you can see, the NCAA denies about half of all undergraduate hardship waiver requests, both in basketball and in football. Below are the basketball numbers from April 2011-April 2012 alone:
Graduate student transfer waivers (2011-12):
Undergraduate transfer waivers (2011-12):
How many of those are related to the health of a family member? Unfortunately, we don't know: NCAA spokesman Cameron Schuh said the organization doesn't track or break down those types of requests within its hardship waiver data. The numbers above refer to all hardship requests, which can also include injury and financial hardship, as above.
Anyway, how does the NCAA decide cases involving the health of a family member? Again, the answers are cloudy. According to Schuh, there is no set criteria. Rather, every case is decided independently, on its own merits, based on specific circumstances.
"There are a number of factors that are considered with the criteria, some of which include the relationship of the individual to the student-athlete and proximity from transferring institution to where the individual lives/is being treated, to name a couple," Schuh said in an email. "Each case is reviewed and determined based on its own merits, so it would not be accurate for me to say if any one factor is weighted more than another nor if cases that look similar on the surface have different outcomes."
It's a tricky calculus. The NCAA must balance sensitivity to the family of a player, and that player's wish to be nearer an ill relative, while also ensuring the rule doesn't become (if it hasn't already) a cynically exploited loophole allowing players to transfer a year earlier than they might otherwise have done.
Without a clear line of demarcation, it's easy to see how that exploitation could happen. As the NCAA considers streamlining its transfer policies, and seeks to bring conferences together on a set of universal transfer requirements, it might also considering clarifying its stance on the various flavors of hardship waiver requests.
NCAA president Mark Emmert sits down with Outside the Lines to discuss the growing epidemic of transfers. For more of this interview and topic, tune into OTL Sunday morning at 9 a.m. ET.
Look for CtG every Friday for the foreseeable offseason future. To share your thoughts or submit a topic for discussion, reply to me on Twitter, @eamonnbrennan, with the hashtag "#CtG."
Thus far, we've discussed the infuriating block-charge call, the influence of NBA isolation, why college basketball needs to wave goodbye to the foul-out, and why it's time to go all-in on monitor review. Today: How the NCAA tournament selection committee can get even better.
The NCAA tournament selection committee does a good job. All anybody really wants is for it to keep getting better.
This is the essential disclaimer that must accompany any criticism of the committee. Why? Because it’s true! We like to moan and complain about the last four teams in and the last four out, but at the end of the day, it rarely matters. The committee typicaly gets it mostly right, especially in selecting the 37 at-large teams to fill out the last two 68-team tournaments. Valid complaints have been rare.
But that doesn’t mean the committee’s methods and results can’t get better. Here’s how.
Join the numerical 21st century.
In February, Scott Van Pelt dropped the radio monologue that launched a thousand columns, wherein he called the NCAA’s proprietary tournament selection metric, the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), akin to “a guy that’s walking around with a big Walkman on his hip the size of a toaster, who’s flipping over his cassette tape, who wants to run home to program his VCR on his standard-definition television.”
At any rate, RPI defenders are increasingly the exception. A consensus seems to be forming around the idea that it’s time for the NCAA to join the rest of us out here in the 21st century because Van Pelt’s right: I’m typing this from an almost unfathomably light MacBook Air while listening to music I’m beaming wirelessly to a Bluetooth speaker in my house. We have no problems adopting technologies that just five years ago would have seemed like magic. Why shouldn’t entrance procedures for the greatest tournament in American sports advance just as quickly? Why has it gone so long without doing so?
When the RPI was invented, it was a huge first step in quantifying a wide range of college basketball teams. It did what the NCAA needed it do. It was even elegant, in its own way. Now, thanks to the work of Ken Pomeroy, Jeff Sagarin, Kenneth Massey, Dean Oliver and the folks at LRMC (whom I assume to be androids like Michael Fassbender in “Prometheus”), we have much, much more accurate formulas to discern and rank the entirety of the sport each and every season. It’s time the NCAA started using them.
None are individually perfect, of course. They all have minor blind spots. More importantly, the NCAA is notoriously wary of formally embracing formulas that include margin of victory, fearing it could encourage teams to run up the score during the season.
I’m not really worried about that. This is college basketball, not T-ball; you don't get a cookie for participation. But I suppose it’s a fair concern. So, which formula do you use? All of them. Replace the RPI with a weighted average of all of the best and most accurate rankings systems in the sport. Include RPI in the formula if you really want to.
The point is, despite its protests to the contrary, the NCAA organizes the committee’s information almost exclusively by RPI. The categories are all RPI-based, the kinds of things we cite in Bubble Watch every week: Wins against the top 50, sub–200 losses, non-conference strength of schedule, you name it. When the NCAA says the RPI “never comes up,” it’s like me never consciously thinking about which row of the grocery store contains the bread. It’s just an accepted organizing principle. It’s baked in to everything the committee does.
I have no problem with that general idea. It’s a lot of information to process. But if the committee is going to use a statistical construct to organize teams, it should be given the best, most updated statistical construct available. Improvement, however incremental, should always be the goal.
Let us see the human side.
Of course, that’s just the numerical side of the process. I’m glad that’s not the only side. For as much as I believe we need more and better math in that room, I also love the idea that it is just a room of administrators and athletic directors doing their best to put together the best NCAA tournament possible -- mistakes and all.
We need a selection committee reality show! I’m only half-kidding! I do believe the NCAA and I agree on one thing: The process needs to be more transparent. That belief has led the NCAA to host media mock bracket sessions for the past five or so years; clearly, it is interested in ensuring we all understand the process as much as possible. But the only way we can really understand it is if we’re allowed in the room with the committee members while they’re doing their job. Put a camera in the committee room all day and charge some sports network a bunch of money to broadcast it. I’d watch. Wouldn’t you? Throw it up on the Internet. At least get a live Twitter feed going. Something.
Maybe it would be as boring as the NCAA hopes. Fine. But at least we’d know what the selection process' defining principles and arguments are. We wouldn’t be reading between the committee chair’s lines after the bracket is revealed; we’d be there every step of the way.*
(*To Jeff Hathaway’s credit, he did a fine and open job explaining the bracket process on the selection show this spring. His predecessor, Gene Smith, was a post-show transparency disaster. Both teams played hard, and all that. It was bad.)
There would be less suspicion that obvious conflicts of interest in the committee room proceeded as they should (i.e., the person recuses himself from the debate on a certain team or conference). To this point, we’ve always taken the committee’s word on that. I believe them, of course, but why not just show everyone how that works?
In the process, you could hammer home to everyone just how difficult and harried the selection process can be. The conflicts with travel, the different exemptions, the logistical tangles. That’s the real benefit: Letting the audience in on the unique challenge of building a 68-team tournament to be ready just a few hours after the season’s final games have been decided. Let them -- us -- see the inherently human folly that goes into such an endeavor. Let us laugh along, recognizing that mistakes come from people doing their best, instead of screaming angrily at some faceless committee in an undisclosed hotel conference room/bunker in Indianapolis.
Let us in, selection committee. Let us in. We know you’re scared. We’re scared too. But this could be so, so good.
After all, the NCAA tournament is selected and seeded in much the same way it was 20 years ago, and guess what? It still rules. But just because something is done well doesn’t mean it should stop trying to get better, that it should stop looking for every improvement around every margin. These are just two. They’re a start.
I don’t know what kind of phone I’m going to be using in five years, but I assume it will be pretty wild. Likewise, I assume the world around will keep changing, and it will keep becoming smarter, more open and more data-driven in every way. Let’s hope the greatest tournament in American sports comes along for the ride.
2. The NCAA dropped the ball on the 75th anniversary of the NCAA tournament, in 2013. The NCAA could have been at Madison Square Garden had it planned for the event long ago. But the Garden didn’t hear from the NCAA until too late, after dates had to be booked with the NHL (Rangers) and NBA (Knicks). The old MSG housed the NIT and the NCAA tournament in the 1940s. The NCAA should have gone old-school, putting the first and second rounds or the regional finals at historic spots for the sport. Instead, it settled on the Staples Center (Los Angeles), Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis), Cowboys Stadium (Arlington, Texas) and now the Verizon Center (Washington, D.C.). I know the NCAA has to deal with pro-style arenas, but there are college venues with historic significance in the sport that have decent size and capacity that the NCAA could have planned for well in advance (MSG, Rupp, Phog Allen, Huntsman Center). If it meant a tougher ticket for 2013, then so be it.
3. Murray State went for the sure thing and decided to play in the Charleston (S.C.) Classic over being in a Kansas State NIT Season Tip-Off pod that wouldn’t guarantee a trip to New York for the semifinals. The Racers complete the eight-team field in the Charleston tourney, scheduled for Nov. 15-18, with Baylor, Boston College, Charleston, Colorado, Dayton, St. John’s and Auburn. Baylor is the favorite in this tournament but Murray State should be seeded second or at the least third in this field.
2. North Texas athletic director Rick Villarreal said Thursday night that he has a policy that he doesn’t release players who have signed with North Texas or leave the program during their career. Conversely, he won’t allow his coaches, even new ones like men’s basketball coach Tony Benford, to cut a player based on ability. He said the only way a player will be released is if there is an academic or behavior issue. This is relevant because signee John Odoh may want to follow former coach Johnny Jones to LSU. Villarreal said Odoh hasn’t asked for a release yet. If he does, don’t expect a release -- or at least not one to LSU. Villarreal was adamant that Odoh was recruited by Jones with Mean Green funds. Players may leave, but without a release, meaning they would then have to pay their own scholarships.
3. Incoming NCAA tournament selection committee chair Mike Bobinski said that 2013 East Regional sites were discussed Thursday in Indianapolis, and that a decision is due in two weeks. Syracuse and Brooklyn, N.Y., appear to be the favorites. The initial four candidates also included New York City (Madison Square Garden) and Newark, N.J. MSG is booked. Newark hasn’t been eliminated yet.
Most people couldn’t pick Shaheen out of a lineup or begin to guess what that long and wordy title means. To the average fan, Shaheen is just another corporate wonk in an endless stream of them in Indianapolis.
But here’s why Shaheen matters:
- He’s the man that negotiated the most recent 14-year/$10.8 billion television contract with CBS and Turner Sports, bringing all of the NCAA tournament games into living rooms across the country for the first time.
- He’s the man who helped devise the First Four format, the solution to what looked like a horrifically bad 96-team concept.
- He’s the man who allowed the media to have an inside look at the selection process, dreaming up the idea of a mock selection that allowed people to actually understand what the committee went through while filling out the NCAA field.
If the NCAA is Oz, Shaheen is one of the few guys in Indianapolis who not only had a heart, a brain and courage; he wasn’t afraid to pull down the curtain.
Well, so much for that.
Pete Thamel at The New York Times did an extensive piece on Shaheen during the Final Four, when Shaheen was technically still a candidate for his job but seen as merely a lame duck. He tried to find an explanation to what many considered a sudden and surprising turn against a man most considered the NCAA’s most affable and accessible foot soldier.
Thamel merely found people who complained that Shaheen failed to delegate his responsibilities, return email promptly, and what NCAA president Mark Emmert referred to as "organizational structure and senior leadership."
If Shaheen isn’t retained to at least run the NCAA tournament, as he’s done for more than a decade -- that's apparently still a remote possibility -- the NCAA tournament will go on without him and most people won’t even know he’s been there, let alone that he’s gone. That’s the reality of being a behind-the-scenes guy at a place where there is but one public figure -- Emmert.
But this is just further proof of how out of touch the people who work in the ivory towers in Indy are.
The NCAA runs more like the KGB than an organization of and for its membership. Information comes in dribs and drabs, embargoed or not at all. How things are done and why they are done are explained in such bureaucratic mumbo jumbo that it’s easy to give up rather than decipher meaning from the multi-syllable answers.
Shaheen was the polar opposite, a guy who tried to explain things as best he could. Who understood that people wanted answers, not corporate speak. Who believed that letting people into the NCAA selection process might actually help. (And it did. Since attending the first mock bracket, I’ve stood stalwart against the conspiracy theorists who insist maniacal minds create matchups a la Kentucky-Indiana in the Sweet 16. I know better now that I know how the process actually occurs).
“I think people felt like you were talking to a computer there for a while and there was nobody at the other end of the phone,’’ Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told The New York Times, explaining that Shaheen had helped "humanize" the organization.
On CBSSports.com, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski went even further in his praise: "Working with Myles Brand, Greg furthered the cause of men's college basketball as much as anyone in the last decade," he said. "It's a huge loss for our game."
Two years ago at the Final Four in Indianapolis, Shaheen sat at the dais to discuss changing the NCAA tournament format, laying out the argument for all models, including the 96-team format.
Let’s just say facing a firing squad would have been easier.
It was entertainingly antagonistic and agitated, but Shaheen never got angry or even nonplussed. He answered any and all questions, sometimes even with a deadpan twinkle in his eye.
Afterward I unloaded on him and the entire concept in a column, blasting the notion for what it appeared to be -- a cold, hard money grab. I even went so far as to count the words in Shaheen’s opening statement (2,505 in all).
Once I filed the column, I sent him a quick email, giving him fair warning that I was going in pretty hard on him. About five hours later, after the column had posted, he wrote back,"A little hard?"
I laughed. He laughed.
We moved on.
And that is the essence of Shaheen. He was one of the few people in Indianapolis who got it. Who understood that it’s OK to be human even inside the walls of a gigantic bureaucracy. Who realized that information is not a bad thing. Who wasn't afraid to pull down the curtain on Oz.
For that, he’ll likely soon be looking for a new job.
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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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.”
No doubt that’s fine for Missouri officials now -- and recent SEC addition Texas A&M -- but not being in the national dialogue won’t stand once the teams begin SEC play. Where some fans see both moves as lateral for the teams, university leaders see otherwise: moving to the SEC with play starting in 2012-13 is a chance to grow their brands nationally.
“The top decision factor for A&M going to the SEC was about increasing national visibility and exposure,” said Jason Cook, A&M’s vice president of marketing and communications. It’s no coincidence, he said, that six of the top 10 and nine of the top 25 top-selling brands for IMG College are SEC members.
Cook said looking no further than your TV screen underscores the opportunity: the recent Aggies game against Iowa State was the game selected by Big 12 first-tier rights holder ESPN, which showed the game on ABC regionally. Cook said it wasn’t even shown across the entire Big 12 footprint, much less nationwide. But that week’s game on CBS, the SEC’s first-tier rights holder, appeared in homes from coast to coast.
Referring to the Big 12’s new, second-tier television deal with FOX set to begin next season, Cook said: “While some look at the Big 12’s contract and see it as good from a financial standpoint, from an exposure standpoint, it doesn’t get coast-to-coast coverage.” This would put A&M in the same situation it was in for the Iowa State game, when broadcasts are via regional network and not nationwide.
Increased exposure nationally through athletics can help educate prospective students learn about the university, too, he said. A&M is still thought of by many to be an all-male military institution. One other important advantage: “We can set the marketplace in the state of Texas for the SEC,” Cook said, as the school will be the conference’s lone Texas brand.
From a licensing standpoint, Cook said consultants have projected revenue to increase by up to 60 percent as a result of the move.
Missouri officials have mentioned similar benefits, but Chris Koukola, assistant to the chancellor for university affairs, focused mostly on academic benefits in a recent interview.
Officials from the admissions office will look at extending their out-of-state reach, particularly in Florida, where they have a large number of alumni. Koukola also mentioned the expanded research opportunities available for faculty.
What Koukola said she most looks forward to is the opportunity to participate in a group the SEC has formed of administrators in a similar communications position. She said the Big 8 had such a group, but it was never active once the Big 12 was formed. This cooperative element adds value to their move that often goes without mention, she said.
Full of legal claims like “breach of contract” and “breach of fiduciary duty,” the lawsuit seeks to allow West Virginia to escape to the Big 12 without having to serve a 27-month mandatory waiting period required by the Big East’s bylaws. I’ve explained previously why the Big East might enforce this provision.
Here’s what West Virginia claims:
1. That the bylaws are void because of any one of the following reasons:
- There has been a “material breach” of contract. WVU alleges that the Big East and its commissioner breached their fiduciary duties to the university by failing to keep the Big East a viable football conference.
- WVU’s performance under the contract has become “impossible or unreasonably burdensome” because the university contends it has always valued the strength of the Big East as a significant football conference.
- The principal purpose of WVU entering into an agreement with the Big East has become “substantially frustrated.” This means that although WVU could still perform under the contract, its purpose in entering into the contract has been destroyed.
2. That a new conference agreement was made between WVU and the Big East when the Big East accepted a $2.5 million payout from West Virginia when it told the conference it was leaving.
3. That the 27-month exit provision is an “unreasonable restraint on trade,” meaning WVU believes the provision isn’t necessary to protect the Big East’s interests.
Here are the counter-arguments the Big East could be expected to make:
With regard to the material breach claim, one factor courts will examine is whether WVU is deprived of the benefit it expected to receive from its Big East contract. To this end, WVU states in its lawsuit that the material breach is due to the commissioner’s “failure to maintain a ratio of football-to-non-football universities of eight-to-eight and maintaining and enhancing the level of competition in the Big East football conference.”
However, the Big East can be expected to argue that during the 27 months WVU will remain a member of the conference there will be eight football members, as other defectors Pitt and Syracuse will also be held in the conference through the 2013 season as part of the 27-month requirement. In addition, the BCS has confirmed that the Big East will remain an BCS football conference through the 2013 season.
WVU’s claim that performance under the bylaws has become “impossible or unreasonably burdensome” relies in part on the assertion that the Big East is “no longer a viable and competitive football conference.” Again, the Big East will likely argue that there will be no change during the seasons WVU will continue to compete as a conference member, and the conference will operate the same in 2012 and 2013 as it did in 2010 and 2011. The same argument will likely be used to oppose WVU’s claim that its purpose in entering into an agreement with the Big East has been “substantially frustrated.”
Another argument by WVU is that even if the bylaws are valid, a new agreement was struck with the Big East for immediate withdrawal upon payment of $2.5 million. WVU claims the Big East accepted the new agreement by accepting the payment. However, the Big East requires such a payment be made when a school notifies the conference of its plans to exit, with another $2.5 million to be paid by the time a school exits. Without additional evidence from WVU on the new agreement it claims was reached, it appears the Big East could argue WVU was only remitting payment as required.
West Virginia’s final argument is that the 27-month withdrawal period is an unreasonable restraint of trade, one that is unnecessary in order to protect the Big East’s interests. Here, attorneys likely will point out that the Big East has already waived its right to enforce the 27-month notice period because it allowed TCU out of its commitment; essentially, the conference can’t hold one school to the 27-month period and not another. Big East Associate Commissioner John Paquette said Tuesday afternoon that the Big East had a separate agreement with TCU that stated if it left before competing, it would not be subject to the 27-month provision.
Paquette said Monday evening that he could not reveal whether WVU voted in favor of the 27-month withdrawal period in the bylaws when it was added. But he did point out: “David Hardesty, the former WVU president, helped write the current withdrawal policies.” Expect the Big East to bring this up in its response to the lawsuit.
The case is important, because it will likely decide the Big East fates of Pitt and Syracuse, which are bound to stay through the 2013 season before heading to the ACC. Although each of those schools could file suit in their respective states, Washington, D.C. law (where the WVU suit will be heard) would govern, according to the Big East bylaws. So any decision in WVU’s case would create precedent for any case filed by Pitt or Syracuse.
Additionally, any decision rendered by a court in this case could impact future conference realignment involving any other conference. Although the decision wouldn’t have to be followed by courts in other jurisdictions, it could be persuasive. No doubt WVU is gambling on the Big East settling the case before a decision is rendered which could impact conference realignment for years to come.