When it comes to March Madness, Duke is a necessary evil. No wonder they’re (Blue) Devils.
There’s no other college basketball team that gets people’s panties in a bunch the way Duke does. You either love them or hate them. Being indifferent is impossible. But, what can be agreed on is their impact on television ratings according to the past and what’s happened this season, along with what we’ve experienced so far in the NCAA Tournament.
When Duke takes the floor for its Sweet 16 matchup with Texas Tech on Thursday night at the Chase Center in San Francisco, they won’t be the favorites, despite being the No. 2 seed in the West region — the Red Raiders are seeded third. As of Wednesday morning, Vegas has Duke as a 1-point underdog. If you’re a Duke fan, this could be good news. The Blue Devils have won their last two games when they were a 1-point underdog — Wisconsin in 2015 and Virginia in 2019. If you’re waiting for Coach K’s final season to be over, then this could be a sign that the end is very near. And if you’re the NCAA or TBS/CBS, you’re hoping that Duke sticks around for as long as possible, as the data proves that they bring in the highest ratings.
Sunday’s Duke and Michigan State second-round matchup was the most-watched game of the tournament so far, bringing in 11.2 million viewers. For comparison’s sake, more people tuned in to watch Coach K and Tom Izzo battle for the last time than they did for the Baylor/Houston Final Four matchup last season and the 2016 Villanova/Oklahoma National Semifinal. The only game from the first weekend of the tournament that had higher ratings than Sunday’s game since 2014 was when Duke and UCF played in 2019, in which 12.88 million people tuned in, according to SportsMediaWatch.com
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“We’re the thing that the NCAA is most concerned about because men’s college basketball and the tournament pays for something like ... it produces 98 percent or more of the money for the NCAA,” Coach K said in August of 2020 on ESPN radio when discussing how the NCAA couldn’t go two years without March Madness.
“We need to have the tournament. We can’t have it where two years in a row you don’t have the NCAA tournament.”
Coach K is right about the tournament being the NCAA’s — a nonprofit organization — biggest moneymaker, but the numbers aren’t so extreme. According to USA Today Sports, around 85 percent of the money the NCAA brings in each year comes from the tournament. It’s the reason why the NCAA could go through with distributing the $613 million it did last year when all 67 games were played.
The more people watch, the more money comes in, and the more money can be distributed. And love it or hate it, how long Duke sticks around each March plays a role in that. SportsMediaWatch calculated that the Blue Devils have never dipped below 28 million viewers in their nine national championship game appearances under Coach K. Duke has played in four (1999, 2001, 2010, 2015) of the most-watched national title games, and the only matchup with similar numbers was the 2005 national title game that featured North Carolina.
Ironically enough, Duke and North Carolina have never met in the NCAA Tournament, however, there is a scenario where they could meet for the third time this season in the Final Four. The networks and the NCAA have their fingers crossed.