Tournament helps strong get stronger NCAA TOURNAMENT THE ROAD STARTS HERE

March 16, 1995|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,Sun Staff Writer Staff writer Mark Hyman contributed to this article.

Whether it wins the national title or loses in today's opening round, Mount St. Mary's College will take roughly $22,000 back to Emmitsburg from the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Win or lose, the University of Maryland will pocket more than $800,000.

That's the way the game is played.

"It's a case of the rich takes most," said Tom McMillen, the former congressman who was an All-America basketball player at College Park and is now a frequent critic of the financing of college sports.

NCAA tournament finances are complicated and have been the subject of much debate in recent years. In 1990, CBS Sports paid $1 billion for a seven-year contract to televise the NCAA men's basketball tournament. In response, the NCAA restructured the way it divvies up the money: Schools are now rewarded for their tournament records over the previous six years rather than on how they did any one year.

In the name of parity, the nine Atlantic Coast Conference schools, including Maryland, decided to pool their take and split the money almost evenly. It was a reform intended to allow teams to play basketball without the added tension of worrying about budgets.

But critics say it allows the strongest programs to get stronger -- and the richest programs to get richer, even in off years.

"Under the present model of college sports, colleges are encouraged to pour more money into men's basketball and football in the pursuit of more money," said Duke University law professor John Weistart, an expert on professional and intercollegiate athletics.

And the pressure to win remains. Much more money arrives on campus from the sales of tickets, from the royalties on T-shirts, caps and other merchandise, from donors who give money for the right to buy season tickets to good seats.

The ACC's decision shored up hard-luck teams like the Maryland Terrapins during the early 1990s. It also rid the tournament of the "million-dollar free throw," a scenario in which some 19-year-old could have the ball with two seconds left and the fate of the game and the solvency of his school's athletic department literally in his hands.

"They were taking a closer look at the money to make it more equitable for all schools," assistant ACC commissioner Bradley Faircloth said. "It takes away this thing of the rich get richer."

Not quite, skeptics said. They argued the NCAA has sidestepped true reform by promoting super-conferences -- a few powerhouse groups such as the ACC -- in which big-time teams profit handsomely.

For example, Duke University will receive an estimated $822,000 in television money from this spring's NCAA tournament. That's more than Florida International University, Gonzaga University, Manhattan College and the University of Pennsylvania combined.

Those last four schools all made the 64-team NCAA tournament. Duke did not -- but it's a member of the ACC.

Complicated formula

The NCAA pays out money from the tournament on a complicated formula that pays each school largely based on the number of tournament games each school has played for each of the past six years. Within the ACC, aside from an additional $25,000 given to each team per game for expenses, all nine schools will share equally.

Weistart, McMillen and other critics question why the formula gives rewards primarily for winning basketball games, rather than for making more strides in areas such as gender equity, support of "nonrevenue" sports or academic performance by athletes.

But reform efforts are thwarted by the prospect of strong teams bolting the NCAA to negotiate their own television deals, as some schools did for football.

"Platitudes aside, it's still a system led by the almighty dollar," said McMillen, who graduated from Maryland in 1974.

Big time sports programs require big money -- $17 million a year in Maryland's case. In the wake of revelations about recruiting abuses during the mid- and late 1980s at Maryland, the Terrapins were put on probation for two years in the early 1990s, cutting the team off from TV revenue and exposure. The athletic department built up a debt that is likely to reach $7 million this year. But after this season, the school can start paying off its debt.

No state funds

By university policy, the Maryland athletic department receives no income from state funds.

It finds other places, largely from basketball. While football can potentially be a revenue source, other sports do not bring in money.

There's the $822,000 from CBS' contract with the NCAA for the tournament. There's the estimated $1.5 million from the regular-season contract with Raycom, a company that markets rights to televise ACC games. Mandatory student fees -- $164 annually per undergraduate -- chip in more than $4 million. A new radio contract for football and basketball broadcasts with Learfield Communications will bring in $900,000 over the next four years. And the university earned nearly $100,000 more this year than last in revenue from the licensing of merchandise, an increase of about 35 percent.

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