Breadwinners: How a College Basketball Team Can Make a School Millions in a Week or Less

For the second year in a row I was fortunate enough to attend the CAA Men’s Basketball Championship in Richmond, Va. The CAA Tournament crowns the champion of the Colonial Athletic Association, the conference for which Northeastern is a member of. Since I broadcast Husky basketball games for WRBB radio, I was there for the entire tournament, even after NU was eliminated in the quarterfinals.

Players at the CAA Tournament looking to score for their team ... and their school.

The championship game is tonight between Drexel and VCU, with the winner going to the NCAA Tournament. Being at the tournament has only reinforced a belief I already had: athletics is a huge marketing tool for schools. I posted back in January about the “Flutie Effect” a school can go through via a big sports win, which helps attract prospective students.

One aspect of the “Flutie Effect” I failed to mention is the impact it has on alumni donations. I ran into a number of Northeastern alumni over the weekend. I got the sense from all of them that the team’s performance in the tournament would dictate how much money they were willing to donate back to the school.

One Drexel alum told me his school’s 19-game winning streak will equate to major donations this year, many in the five-digit category. VCU made the Final Four last year and raked in the donations. The Rams’ run was good for the rest of the conference, which was rewarded with $1.9 million for getting a team into the Final Four. Of course, this can lead to problems, as UConn found out with its football program.

What’s fascinating to me is this one tournament — with 12 teams playing 11 games over four days — can make or break a school’s financial revenue for the year. Take Towson for example. The Tigers are in turmoil and this season set the Division 1 record for most consecutive losses at 41. Back in December, the New York Times wrote a feature story on Towson’s struggles and the rebuilding work the program has gone through. The Tigers have won exactly one game in the past 15 months, yet if the team somehow pulled off an incredible run in this tournament, you can bet they’d make the school millions.

I will be at tonight’s sold out championship game where at the end of the night players and fans of the winning team will storm the court in celebration. Back at that school’s alumni office, there is sure to be celebration as well.

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