Rising to the Top – 3

30 Nov 2008

Rising to the Top, Part 3

Welcome back. The season has started and basketball bloggers in general, and I in particular have become absorbed in the day-to-day machinations of our teams and the season. I wanted to get back to this series of posts though, as I believe it can lend some light on the Catch-22 Midmajors find themselves in; and how the Bluejays have learned to skirt the Big Issue to become a Major team in college basketball.

One of the Top online basketball sites is The Mid Majority, Kyle whelliston’s website, which has the reputation of all things Midmajor. His is an example of an excellent information outlet that also provides articulate, insightful, and timely commentary on the world of college basketball.

Some time back Kyle published an article on Division 1 college basketball funding. He postulated that conferences spending less than 20 Million annually for athletics/less than 2 Million annually for basketball specifically, are the midmajors and that they cannot realistically compete for the championship. Whelliston’s article presents a very compelling argument. Money talks and bullcrap walks. The article is titled: The Red Line. (link below)

The Red Line


Whelliston makes a very cogent article. Unless conferences and individual schools can spend at he levels of the BCSer’s – Coaches, recruiting, facilities, etc., they cannot expect to compete with them. This is proven out by the data from the Dept of Education along with NCAA data.

Others such as Joe Lunardi have cited the differences in performance and expectations. Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post cites the relative equality of the traditional “Basketball Schools” to the BCSer’s. He calls for a new name category for college basketball’s Traditional Powers who are not part of the BCS regime: Bigtime Programs.

Whelliston’s argument is the one which makes most sense. Money rules sports in the US. It is shown from Baseball, Football, and throughout sports – Money talks. He who can spend more wins more, ie; the NY Yankees / Atlanta Braves vs Oakland A’s / Minnesota Twins; Dallas Cowboys/Washington Redskins vs Cleveland Browns / Arizona Cardinals; LA Lakers vs Toronto Raptors. The same is true for college sports.

From where I sit then, it becomes an argument about commitment. Commitment of the smaller conferences, their commissioners and officials, and their teams; a committment to compete on a meaningful level; to perhaps make sacrifices in other areas in order to excel on basketballs’ big stage.

Two conferences that have made such commitment are the A-10 and the MVC. Both conferences spend less than the $20M (USD) Redline cutoff per program, but spend at the cutoff line in Basketball (A-10 = $2M, MVC = $1.9M) on average. The flagship schools in these two leagues exceed the averages:

A-10 and MVC Basketball Budgets
School FY League Spnd League BB $ School AD $ School BB $
Red Line 2007-08 $20 M $2.0 M

A-10 $14.2 M $2.3 M
Dayton $16.8 M $2.8 M
St Joe’s $11.6 M $2.6 M
Temple $25.8 M $2.7 M
Umass $21.4 M $2.5 M
URI $17.9 M $2.2 M
Xavier $18.5 M $3.1 M
MVC 2007-08 $12.2 M $1.9 M

$10.8 M $2.5 M


$11.8 M $3.4 M

Drake $11.4 M $1.5 M
Illinois St $12.2 M $1.8 M

$17.5 M $1.4 M


$16.3 M $3.1 M

The two most surprising schools are SIU and Drake.

That SIU has produced as significant a recent string of success (last six years) on such a shoestring budget is indeed impressive. The resultant good recruiting should continue that success for the near future.

That Drake was able, at all, to put together the ‘dream team’ they had last season. Finding those ‘diamonds in-the-rough’ payed off in spades for the Bulldogs. Now if they can mimic the SIU program in gaining better recruits, they too may find themselves with a short ‘run’ of success.

The MVC also surprises in that 3 of its’ schools spend well above the Red Line school average ($2 M) in their annual basketball spending, yet these schools tend to underachieve compared to others who spend comparable dollars. Perhaps they ‘buy into’ the media hype for the Majors or into the condescension for Midmajors? They should be winning on par with Major schools given their budgets. Most Valley schools could stretch to move their programs to the $2.0-2.5 M annual expenditure level.

All of the A-10 leaders could easily spend more, with exception to St Joes, which has an MVC-type overall budget. UMass and Temple could easily double their MBB budgets and most could match Xavier’s $3.1 M figure. Such a move would ensure the A-10’s upgrade to Major status.

It goes without saying that both the A-10 and the MVC must continue to improve in order to compete with the Majors. One sure means of continuing to improve across the board is through the use of well thought out phased-spending plans.