247Sports contributor Leigh Klein examines the dollars and cents of teams that could make a splash this NCAA Tournament and argues that their success certainly makes cents.
Currently there is much buzz over the inclusion of six non-BCS conference schools in the current AP poll and as many as a dozen when you include the “others receiving votes”.
The non-BCS conferences, in particular, the Mountain West, the Atlantic 10, the Missouri Valley and the West Coast Conference are seriously campaigning for an unprecedented amount of at-large bids.
Specifically, we are talking about NCAA tournament bids of up to six programs in the Mountain West, anywhere from three and maybe even up to six Atlantic 10 teams and possibly three from each the West Coast and the Missouri Valley. That could end up accounting for one-third of the at-large bids this March.
What is the secret to their success this season? It’s worth a look, especially when you look at the struggles of conferences like the SEC.
The answer to be successful in college basketball, is simple - spend money! Since 1997 only two schools outside of the top 150 in basketball spending have reached the Sweet 16, those being Cornell in 2010 and Davidson in 2008. All told, 75 percent of Final Four spots since 2005 have gone to those in the top 35 in basketball spending, which includes each national champion during that stretch. Gonzaga spent more than $5 million dollars on men’s basketball in 2011 (2012 numbers are not available yet) and that is more than 34 power conference teams including Ohio State, Michigan and Cincinnati.
So before we right this great story about the little programs that could, perhaps we need to define who should really be considered “little” in this day and age.
With 344 teams accounted for based on 2011 revenue, the spend varies greatly from University of New Orleans and it’s $346,767 budget for hoops to Duke who spends nearly $14 million on its basketball program. Mid-major? Yeah, try mid-spender!
There are almost fifty programs that are spending more than $5 million dollars annually on their basketball program. Another 25 programs that are spending at least $4 million dollars and while some may say that perhaps that is the magic mark there are BCS level teams below that threshold. Thus the barometer should be $3 million dollars in spending, which 96 teams eclipsed in 2011 for their basketball teams.
When we return to our rankings to find the best mid-majors in the land, we now recognize that Gonzaga, Creighton, New Mexico, UNLV, Wichita State, San Diego State, Butler and VCU all spent over $3 million dollars in basketball spending and should not be thought of as mid-majors.
Thus the real mid-majors are teams such as Bucknell, Middle Tennessee State and Louisiana Tech – all who spend less than $2 million dollars on their programs yet are in the conversation as top 25 teams. How about rooting for the Lumberjacks from Stephen F Austin that are currently 16-1 with wins over $8 million dollars spender Oklahoma and $4 million dollar spender Tulsa, who is investing less than $1 million dollars into its men’s basketball program? There’s nothing mid-major about those dollar amounts.
This March when you are wanting to root for Cinderella, make sure her dress and heels aren’t laced with diamonds.
Leigh Klein was formerly on staff at Texas and Rhode Island and now owns Five-Star Basketball Camps, the nation’s top basketball camp. He contributes to 247Sports.com’s coverage of college basketball. Klein can be followed at @LeighAlanKlein