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Why college sports will never rank alongside Bostonís pro teams

Posted by Adam Kaufman  March 21, 2014 08:22 AM

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Harvard basketball.jpg

We all know the NCAA Tournament generates money by the billions in advertising sales and broadcast rights, but what if the results were determined by it?

No, Iím not talking about boosters, point-shaving, or any form of wink, wink, nudge, nudge behavior used to influence the outcomes or ďtake care of playersĒ behind the scenes. The question is: What if the richest team won?

MotherJones.com took that question and answered it with a fascinating infographic, measuring the Davids and Goliaths based on each schoolís total athletic revenue, courtesy of information provided by the US Department of Education.

MoJo March Madness infographic.png

As you can see, the Texas Longhorns would be cutting down the nets this year, thanks to the universityís nearly $165 million in athletic earnings. Compare that to two schools that donít even crack eight-figures, North Carolina Central and Mercer. Each checks in at $9 million. Cal Poly has made nearly double that at $17 million. Cal Poly!

Locally, four New England programs are represented in the tourney; Connecticut ($63M), UMass ($29M), Providence ($24M), and Harvard ($21M). Based on this yearís seeds, only UConn would make it out of the field of 64 based on this formula, with each of the other schools getting dominated financially. Good thing for Tommy Amakerís Crimson; it would have been a quick return to the study rooms.

The Huskies, if youíre wondering, would double-up Villanova in the third round before falling narrowly to North Carolina in the Sweet 16.

Had Steve Donahueís old Boston College team won enough games to make the tourney Ė or save his job Ė it would have come in just behind UConn at $61 million. Boston University, already ousted from the NIT, made almost $30 million, still better than those Minutemen.

MoJoís study also examines how teams in the tournament fared this year in regard to how much money it effectively spent per win on menís basketball. The range was great, from $34,284.75 for North Carolina Central to Ohio Stateís more than $750,000. On the local scene, Harvard would have represented far better after a 26-4 year (entering Thursday) at about $54,000, while the other three schools each exceeded six-figures.

MoJo March Madness infographic 2.png

The Eagles were embarrassingly inefficient, spending roughly $683,000 per win, while the Terriers had a far more impressive $82,500 expense for each victory.

While all of the numbers are interesting to dissect, thereís obviously a larger argument thatís been around these parts for decades: Do you care?

Boston, and in larger terms New England, isnít a college sports community. There are exceptions in certain pockets Ė just ask the folks in and around Storrs or out in Amherst Ė but college sports results for the most part just donít resonate with a sports-rooting fanbase that lives and breathes with each professional result.

Is this a baseball town? Football? Hockey? Basketball? It depends entirely on the time of the year and, more so, how a team is playing. The only certainty is this isnít a soccer town, though the Revolution have their rabid fans.

The Red Sox and Patriots will always receive attention and scrutiny, whether theyíre winning or losing, and the Bruins and Celtics have both shown in recent years theyíre capable of engulfing the masses by staffing a contender. As the Cís have learned, the support isnít quite the same when the results arenít there.

But, at the college ranks, it generally doesnít matter.

BC football improved by five wins last year to qualify for its first bowl game since 2010, and was subsequently squashed by Arizona 42-19. It was the Independence Bowl, so nobody noticed. UMass has been laughably bad on the gridiron in the two years since joining the Mid-American Conference, going 2-22. Mark Whipple will take the reins in 2014 after great success at the university from 1998-2003, but for now the Minutemen are a punchline.

New England is astonishingly well-represented on the ice with Boston College, Quinnipiac, UMass-Lowell, Providence, Vermont, Northeastern, New Hampshire, and Yale all ranking in the Top 20 in the nation. Maine has been competitive this year and Boston University is in the midst of a transition after decades of prominence. Still, good luck finding someone who didnít go to one of those schools counting down the days to the Frozen Four. That, by the way, is an awful shame with so much NHL-bound talent in our backyard.

Getting back to the court, a variety of factors would seem to contribute to the regionís general lack of interest.

Sure, Harvardís having success, but itís in the Ivy League. Only a Cinderella run this month would generate buzz and even that would be fleeting.

UMass fans are talking about the days of John Calipari and Marcus Camby right now, but that will end against Duke if it doesnít today at the hands of Tennessee. Call it a tough Midwest draw.

Boston College is in a powerhouse conference filled with teams it canít compete with Ė at least not yet Ė and Patriot League winner Boston University, again, was merely an NIT team. Nobody gets excited for the NIT. Anywhere.

Schools like Connecticut, Providence, and UMass have learned in the not-too-distant past that star power is everything. To have a chance at public respect in a place like Boston, schools must play in a good conference, have a notable head coach, at least one budding NBA talent, and build a few-year period of deep runs, and even all that may not be enough if the Red Sox are in need of a center fielder, the Patriots signed a Hall of Fame cornerback, and the Bruins are poised to compete for another Stanley Cup. Plus, none of those schools are physically in the city, which automatically lessens the buzz.

Perhaps if college teams were performing better than the pro clubs that would briefly turn the tide, but Boston franchises on the whole spend enough to be competitive, and thatís not going to change any time soon.

Itís clearly not an easy riddle to solve. Should colleges in the area be spending more to land top-caliber coaches? Must the academic requirements be lessened for student-athletes in the admissions process? Should schools be, ahem, influencing recruits to come to Boston in an effort to keep up with the Joneses? Is New England doomed to watch top talent go to warm-weather climates, like in NBA free agency? Is there any way to entice the locally-gifted players to stay, other than the ones who already do for pucks, or will they forever chase the more historically dominant programs because those give them the best chance to win titles and turn pro?

And, of course, are local schools Ė even those outside the city Ė simply forever victimized by their locations? Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Arizona, and Louisville, among others, arenít surrounded by four high-level professional sports teams. How would those programs do in their communities if they were?

The best chance for college teams to get attention here? Win and win a lot. Otherwise thereís no hope beyond blending in. Truthfully, even winning probably isnít enough.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.

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