March Madness, the NCAA’s biggest moneymaker, is back

Fans at a scaled-back Kansas/George Mason game in January. The tournament will look something like this.
Fans at a scaled-back Kansas/George Mason game in January. The tournament will look something like this.
Photo: Getty Images

You know that saying about how you should never put all your eggs in one basket? Well, that’s the only way the NCAA knows how to operate..


Brackets are up and we’re enjoying our first Selection Sunday since 2019. And while fans couldn’t be happier to have the tournament back, no one is more excited than the NCAA, given that the cancelation of last year’s tournament cost the “non-profit” organization roughly $800 million. Roughly 98 percent of the NCAA’s annual revenue comes from the tournament, as proven by the fact that most of their 2019 revenue – $1.12 billion – was linked to the basketball tournament, not bowls games or the College Football Playoffs.

After losing out on that kind of money, going another year without the tournament wasn’t an option. It didn’t matter if we had three vaccines or none at all, games were going to be played. That’s what happens when you put high-priced eggs in luxury baskets.

“I think if you ask anybody, I don’t think anything she said is completely off the charts wrong,” said UConn’s women coach Geno Auriemma about Baylor women’s head coach Kim Mulkey’s comments that the only reason the season continued during a pandemic was because of the “almighty dollar.’ “However, having said that, I don’t know if there is any coach in the country who would say, ‘If you give back your entire salary for this year then we’ll be even.’ So the almighty dollar has a lot to do with what we are doing.”

“Without the men’s tournament, there are a lot of things that happen in the NCAA that don’t happen,” Auriemma explained. “There are a lot of championships, mainly all of them, that wouldn’t be held if it wasn’t for the men’s basketball tournament. That’s the reality.”

“Maybe it’s easy if you’re at a Power Five football school and you’re making millions and millions and millions of dollars. That’s great. But 90 percent of the schools in America are not in that situation. So it is about the money. And again, that’s just the reality of it.”

Proof of that reality took place last week when Michigan State’s basketball program announced that they’d entered an endorsement deal with Rocket Mortgage that will make them now known as the “MSU Spartans Presented by Rocket Mortgage” on campus. It’s a five-year deal that will give branding to Rocket Mortgage throughout the Breslin Center and Spartan Stadium so the company’s name will be seen on TV.


“As presenting sponsor of our season, their presence will be an asset as we compete for championships,” said Tom Izzo about the deal. And while it may seem cheap and flimsy, it’s not like the Izzo had a choice. According to a report from the Detroit Free Press, Michigan State’s athletic department is projected to lose $75 million due to the fallout from COVID-19.


To tally it all up, the Spartans are on pace to lose $75 million while the NCAA lost roughly $800 million last year, leading to the playing of the NCAA tournament – while three programs in Duke, Virginia, and Kansas all left their conference tournaments last week due to positive COVID-19 tests – in hopes of the NCAA regaining its revenue in 2021.

Who said basketball wasn’t an expensive sport?

Over the next three weeks, March Madness will dominate television, sports media, and the betting world. And while all that is happening as we’re taking part in the sport’s most exciting annual tournament, just remember that none of the players on the court are getting paid.


They’re “amateurs,” remember?