St. Peters: An Underpaid Cinderella Story
Bringing light to the broken system of the NCAA tournament revenue allocation.
Cinderella Needs Stimulus
For all of you sports fans, it’s one of your holiday seasons.
The Masters Tournament begins next week, the NBA & NHL Playoffs are around the corner, the USA Men’s National Soccer Team just qualified for the World Cup, the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final 4 is tipping off, and the NCAA Men’s March Madness has been absolutely insane — with four the teams in the Sweet 16 having been double-digit seeds: Iowa State, Miami, Michigan, and of course St. Peter’s.
St. Peters? That’s right. Unless you live under a rock, you’ve likely heard about the latest darling of the basketball world — the Peacocks out of Jersey City.
Round of 64: defeated the University of Kentucky Wildcats, a 2-seed (85-79)
Round of 32: defeated the Murray State Racers, a 7-seed (70-60)
Sweet 16: defeated the Purdue Boilermakers, a 3-seed (67-64)
Elite 8: lost to the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, an 8-seed (49-69)
You need to understand just how improbable St. Peter’s run to the Elite 8 was — from a money perspective.
Improbable Doesn’t Do it Justice —
First off, this is the gym that Kentucky plays in:
… and this where St. Peter’s welcomes opponents:
Obviously, that speaks for itself on the financial-backing each program receives. Makes sense given the difference in enrollment (~32K v. ~2K) and basketball history, but we dove into the numbers to actually see the extent of the difference.
Spend Per Player:
The US Department of Education has a financials repository called the Equity in Athletics Data Analysis, and we’d bet that this site has gotten a bit more traction since St. Peter’s rose to the spotlight.
Below are the most recently updated ‘Game Day’ expenses for the St. Peter’s and Kentucky teams throughout the season — with SPU listed first and UK listed second.
Just from this one way of measuring each program’s budget, Kentucky comes in at spending over 9.5x more for players’ ‘operating’ expenses.
Assuming a 30-game regular season — St. Peters spends ~$600 per player each game, while Kentucky spends ~$6,000 per player each game.
This of course doesn’t even account for the massive amounts of donations, media deals, and institutional partnerships that one of the winningest programs of all-time sees on a regular basis.
Here’s another stat to convince you why this was, in our opinion, one of the greatest upsets in American sports history.
UK Coach Calipari is the second-highest paid coach in the country — bringing in $8.6 million per year.
According to Sports Illustrated, St. Peter’s annual men’s basketball expenditures (everything, including the ‘Game Day’ expenses mentioned above) come in at under $1.6 million.
Kentucky’s Coach Cal gets paid over 5x more than the annual outlays of the entire St. Peter’s basketball program.
St. Peter’s Coach Holloway makes ~97% less money annually than Kentucky’s Coach Cal (not even including his personal brand partnerships).
We’re not feeling bad for the Peacocks’ puppet master though — he just took the head coaching job for the Seton Hall Pirates, his alma mater. While the numbers aren’t yet public, his predecessor for the Pirates was raking in ~$2.4M per year, so he’ll certainly be happy.
15 Minutes of Fame —
We could go even deeper with the comparisons, considering all of the above data was just about St. Peter’s first round win. They went on to beat Murray State (undefeated in conference play, 14th nationally in offensive efficiency, 13th nationally in defensive efficiency) and Purdue (24-time Big Ten Champions and consensus Top-10 team this season).
Here’s the awesome part — some of the Peacocks players are now superstars.
For example, Doug Edert is a guard on the team that had under 2,000 followers on social media before the NCAA tournament. He now has over 200K followers across platforms, a clothing line through Barstool Sports, is making bank on expensive Cameo videos, and even signed an NIL deal with Buffalo Wild Wings.
No Jackpot in Sight —
The changes to Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) rules came at a great time for the St. Peter’s players — but the program itself isn’t so quick to see the riches.
According the ESPN, St. Peters earned ~$8.1 million during its journey through the NCAA tournament bracket. Great — but how is that money actually distributed?
That money is actually divided up among all 11 schools shown below — the members of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC):
If that wasn’t bad enough, the money is paid out over a six-year timeframe. So if this money was split up evenly among the schools and paid out once-annually…St. Peter’s would be getting ~$123K each year.
They’ll likely get a bump in pay due to winning the conference tournament, but this still isn’t something that seems particularly fair after lighting up the sports and media worlds. Especially, when you consider that St. Peter’s operating budget is significantly less than all of its MAAC rivals.
Just read the comments from the St. Peter’s Athletic Director about how much getting a more reasonable portion of the pie would mean:
“I don’t anticipate there’s going to be a jackpot.”
“I would like to see however it’s distributed among the members of the MAAC, I’d like to see Saint Peter’s get a little bit more…We’re the ones doing this, quite frankly.”
“I would say we’ve got a ways to go to just get to a point where we’re comfortable not crunching numbers for every road trip and every hotel…I’m probably making it sound more dire than it is. But we’re very conscientious about what we spend the money on. It only goes so far.”
What’s It Gonna Take?
It’s painful to even talk about the NCAA tournament to this extent.
I, of course, had my Tennessee Vols winning it all and they lost to Michigan in the Round of 32. My co-founder & Rate of Return Contributor Christian went to Virginia, so don’t even ask him about their basketball season this year.
The point is that not enough people are talking about these lack of payouts. It’s nothing new, with past ‘Cinderalla Stories’ facing the same issues — but this is easily the most dramatic example from a monetary perspective.
Sure, there’s plenty of good things that come — such as the NIL deals mentioned earlier and the positive tailwinds shown in the headlines above. And of course, academic institutions have a responsibility to return ‘winnings’ back to the conferences that have fostered them for years.
But still — if this Jersey City miracle doesn’t show that the financial results of March Madness disproportionately benefit the media over athletic departments & universities that actually perform the miracles… then what will?