The Final Four means euphoria, bragging rights and a never-ending source of conversation, but it also means one of the little guys of college basketball can enjoy a bigger payday.
By Dan Voorhis
The Wichita Eagle
It’s too early to give even a rough estimate of the financial gain that comes from making it to the final round of the NCAA Tournament, say Wichita State officials. But it clearly won’t put the university in the same league with the University of Louisville, which was recently named by Forbes as the nation’s most valuable basketball program, with a profit of $24.6 million. The entire budget for WSU’s basketball program this year is $3.1 million.
Still, it will certainly be a nice pay boost for WSU. School officials said WSU would gain from at least three sources: tournament-related earnings, increased merchandise sales and increased contributions from alumni and other donors. The real benefit, they say – the heightened awareness – is impossible to put a value on.
For now, though, they’re loving every crazy, frantic second of it, and not worrying too much about the payoff.
“We’re not out there shaking our buckets yet,” said Darron Boatright, senior associate athletic director for external operations. “It’s like being in the middle of a tornado and somebody asking what the damage is.”
One thing is known: how much of a payout WSU will earn directly from the NCAA, explained Rege Klitzke, senior associate athletic director for business operations.
WSU will get about $450,000 for its tournament run, plus another $367,500 to cover expenses for playing in three cities: Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and Atlanta.
Under a complex formula, the NCAA awards schools that play in the tournament one unit for each game they play, to a maximum of five. Because it reached the Final Four, WSU will earn all five units. This year, Creighton earned two units by getting into the second round.
But the money isn’t paid directly to the school. It goes to the Missouri Valley Conference, which collects the money for all MVC schools in the tournament, takes a cut for itself and divides the remainder evenly among conference members.
The schools that go to the tournament also immediately receive the equivalent of half a unit for each city in which they play in to cover expenses. For WSU, that would be another one-and-a-half units. This year, a unit is worth $245,000.
But what makes the formula complicated is that a conference’s units are accumulated over six years, so each year a school will receive an equal share of the past six years worth of a conference’s units. In 2008, the Valley had as many as 25 units worth $5 million for the conference because of strong tournament performances in the first half of the last decade.
Since then, however, conference schools haven’t done as well. And this year the number of units dropped precipitously. For this year’s pay out, which excludes the current tournament performance, the Valley has just 13 units worth $3.2 million to divide among nine schools. Creighton, which is leaving the conference, will not get a share.
The formula rewards conferences that have multiple teams get in year after year. But even so, Wichita’s tournament run is compensating for four or five years of mediocre Valley performances.
So WSU’s success is welcome for all of the conference schools in propping up next year’s payout. They will all receive in the neighborhood of $450,000 next year in part because of the impact of WSU’s Final Four run this year.
It’s a little early to know what this will mean for WSU merchandise sales, said John Brewer, the university’s assistant athletic director for marketing and strategic communications.
He said the company that licenses WSU brands for T-shirts and other merchandise estimated earlier that reaching the Sweet 16 would mean a bump, pushing the university’s typical annual revenue of $125,000 to about $200,000.
But the Final Four is a whole different level, Brewer said. That merchandise is sold all over the country.
“This is uncharted territory,” he said. “I’m assuming there is one solid week for them to be on sale, but there will probably be some trickle effect after that.”
Even though WSU doesn’t have the basketball cachet of Louisville, Syracuse or Michigan, the team has established a distinctive and appealing reputation.
“I’m biased, of course, but I think we are the popular choice because of the way we’ve played,” Brewer said. “I think we are the trending team.”
Elizabeth King, president and CEO of the WSU Foundation, is in charge of building WSU’s base of donors. She has done it for years, but this is something entirely new, she said.
“We have never made it to the Final Four in my 22 years,” she said, with a laugh. “This is all new for all of us, and we hope this is the beginning of a crazy, exciting time for the university.”
She said it’s impossible to know the impact, for sure, but said she has gotten more than 100 e-mails from big donors wanting tickets.
“I don’t think we can underestimate the impact this is having,” she said.
Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or firstname.lastname@example.org.