The storyline that always kicks of the NCAA tournament is about the team that didn’t make the tournament at all, even though they sat in front of the TV and waited or even expected their name to be called.
On the surface, this is sad for the coaches and athletes that got snubbed. To participate in such an extraordinary event is an amazing feeling and experience. It is a culmination of a lifetime of work for some. For the NCAA to have a room full of people looking at analytics justifying one team over another will always be a topic to be argued.
There’s something to be said for a team that is clearly good enough to participate in the tournament but slips up one game in their conference tournament and therefore is punished for a lifetime. It’s not just an emotional pain when the team does not make the NCAA tournament; there is great financial pain as well.
The NCAA tournament earns the NCAA governing body somewhere around $900 million in revenue. This accounts for 90 percent of its overall annual revenue.
The NCAA explains that 96 percent of that money is then put back into the university and conferences that participate in the NCAA tournament.
A team that finds a way into the tournament and plays one game will receive about $1.7 million over a six-year payout period. The more they win, the more money they receive. Basically the system in place assigns a monetary value based on athletic performance.
For some of the major universities and conferences that participate, the money received from the tournament is a cherry on top, so to speak. However for the mid-major and low-major conferences, the money they receive from the tournament is vital. That is why a mid-major conference craves so badly for wins and hopes that two teams from their conference can make the tournament. That brings in double the money to be distributed. If they happen to wear a Cinderella slipper and win multiple games, it puts the schools and the conference in a position to thrive for years.
Mid-major teams that lose only one or two games in their conference season but don’t win the conference tournament typically do not make the NCAA tournament. Their only hope is that their non-conference schedule puts them in position to justify a spot in the tournament.
Often you will hear an analyst say that they had a weak non-conference schedule. This is flawed for two main reasons. Coaches are hired and fired based on wins and losses. It is a fine line to schedule only games that are deemed worthy of an NCAA tournament resume and scheduling games in which you can win consistently.
High-major teams can buy wins. They play a schedule in their conference which allows them to obtain enough wins to get to the tournament while also paying non-conference opponents up to the amount of $90,000 to $100,000 a game to generate more wins.
The second flaw in the scheduling argument is that often games are scheduled years prior to the season at hand. At some point the NCAA needs to find a way to reward teams that are good and have had a great season.
If the decision-makers were willing to simply accept that the numbers don’t always add up but the teams do then giving some teams the invitation goes a very long way.
It is the difference for some teams for some teams in conferences finding a way to stay afloat while others are just adding to their dominance.
Brian Barone played basketball at Texas A&M University and Marquette University and holds a master’s degree in communications. He now coaches men’s basketball at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.