NCAA title: a boost in spirit and (a little) money

Mike Segar/Reuters
University of North Carolina Tar Heels Tyler Hansbrough celebrates after his team defeated the Michigan State Spartans in the NCAA men's Final Four championship basketball game in Detroit April 6.

Monday night's NCAA basketball championship was running on fumes.No, not the athletic kind. The superb athletes and coaching of North Carolina justifiably earned their trophy in their 89-72 victory over Michigan State. College sports programs, however, are running into the economic equivalent of a full-court press.

Help from broadcasts

Sure, TV contracts will protect athletics programs from a blowout. But if the recession doesn't ease soon, colleges and universities will find their endowments still shrinking, their donors cutting back, and their students needing more financial aid.

"College sports are going to be hit harder than professional sports," said Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College and sports-economics author, in an interview.

For less visible sports, that will mean fewer games and less travel. Even for the marquee sports, coaches salaries will come under pressure. And a new stadium?


Winning it all?

Championships can help a little. Every basketball game that a school wins in the postseason means about $800,000 in TV revenue to their conferences, which they then divvy up among the schools, estimates Daniel Fulk, an accounting professor at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., and a research consultant for the NCAA.

Cinderella teams can benefit from the national attention with a bump in student applications, which can increase diversity and the school's academic competitiveness. But Cinderella teams are passé (as we explain here). Already successful programs have the visibility, and the evidence is mixed on whether another championship really boosts donations in any long-term way, Mr. Fulk said.

"I don't think winning a national championship will mean so much to North Carolina," he added, "because they already have that exposure."

[Editor's note: This story was updated April 7, 2009.]

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