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Insider

Money underdogs in the Dance

3/18/2008

The term "mid-major" does little to describe the low finances of teams outside the big-time leagues. Smaller colleges with smaller budgets have it harder when trying to maintain winning legacies -- highly successful coaches are routinely lured away by power-conference paychecks, and available cash determines a program's recruiting scope.

In college basketball, the big winners are nearly always the ones with the big wallets.

Don't believe it? Teams from the eight leagues with average athletic expenses of more than $20 million (Big Ten, ACC, SEC, Pac-10, Big East, Big 12, Conference USA and Mountain West) have dominated teams from the 23 poorer conferences, winning 89 percent of the time in nonconference and NCAA tournament play over the past three seasons.

Small-school programs that strike deep into March do so despite their relatively shallow pockets, and they have to rely on smarts and systems to compete with athletic powerhouses. So, based on athletic budgets alone, which teams will go out on the floor with the biggest financial advantages in this weekend's first round? (All athletic budgets are from the Office of Postsecondary Education from August 2007, the most recent data available.)

$83,828,949 - No. 2 Texas ($89,313,536) vs. No. 15 Austin Peay ($5,484,587)

$82,776,870 - No. 2 Tennessee ($92,557,528) vs. No. 15 American ($9,780,658)

$72,087,593 - No. 3 Wisconsin ($81,401,728) vs. No. 14 Cal State-Fullerton ($9,314,135)

$57,655,906 - No. 6 Oklahoma ($69,266,320) vs. No. 11 Saint Joseph's ($11,610,414)

$57,642,039 - No. 1 UCLA ($61,309,668) vs. No. 16 Mississippi Valley State ($3,667,629)

The government also requires Division I schools to report figures about their men's basketball spending. Have-mores like Duke spill more than $8 million on hoops alone, and most power-conference programs with national championship aspirations are generally in the $3-5 million range. Hardly any of the true upset candidates in the field spend more than $2 million on basketball, and many of the one-bid leagues that have failed to find tournament success recently have sent teams that are squarely in the six-figure zone.

Here, then, are the five biggest first-round disparities when it comes to men's basketball operating expenses.

$6,778,616 - No. 2 Duke ($8,010,066) vs. No. 15 Belmont ($1,231,450)

$6,198,814 - No. 2 Texas ($6,594,163) vs. No. 15 Austin Peay ($395,349)

$5,320,676 - No. 1 Kansas ($6,170,233) vs. No. 16 Portland State ($849,557)

$4,780,540 - No. 1 UCLA ($5,262,775) vs. No. 16 Mississippi Valley State ($482,235)

$4,594,440 - No. 3 Louisville ($6,082,104) vs. No. 14 Boise State ($1,487,664)

Wannabe Cinderellas like Belmont and Austin Peay -- outspent by factors of eight and 16, respectively -- may be able to derive some inspiration from recent events. George Mason made the 2006 Final Four with a $1.02 million basketball budget, overcoming a Connecticut team in the regional final that spent 5.4 times that. And when Northwestern State shocked Iowa in a 13-over-4 game two seasons ago, the hoops budget disparity was 9.5 to 1 ($4.48 million to $0.47 million). That's a greater distance in percentages than between the 2007 MLB payrolls of the Yankees and Devil Rays ($189 million to $24 million).

And as recent history tells us, one out of every 10 times, the little guy wins.