NCAA March (Licensing) Madness

When you sit down to watch the Final Four basketball tournament this year, take your eyes off the action for a moment.

Notice the blue Dasani water cups that everybody is drinking from on the sidelines? Or the Adidas sneakers and jerseys worn by some players?

What about that Pontiac parked outside the arena? Did you know the carmaker is responsible for the "official performance machines of the NCAA?"

Forget about the brackets. The men's college basketball tournament is no longer just about free throws, picks and rebounds.

It's a big business that is getting bigger every year.

Television rights account for the largest chunk of change. CBS Sports has a $6 billion contract to broadcast the games on TV, radio and the Internet. The 11-year contract is worth about $550 million a year.

The cash from the monthlong basketball tournament represents about 90 percent of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's budget for this year.

Then there are corporate sponsorships, not just of the tournament but of the individual schools.

While players don't earn a dime because of NCAA regulations, their coaches rake in millions.

Nearly two dozen college coaches earn $1 million a year or more.

The only coach in this year's Final Four not to break that threshold is Georgetown's John Thompson III, who earns $456,000 a year.

And as the tournament reaches its conclusion, there is rampant speculation that University of Florida coach Billy Donovan will switch to the University of Kentucky.

Donovan already makes well more than $1 million a year, but rumors posted on a Kentucky fan Web site say that Donovan has agreed to a seven-year contract that would pay him $3.5 million a year.

During a news conference Thursday, NCAA president Myles Brand expressed concern about salaries, but said it was up to the schools to police themselves when it came to new hires.

"Is this the appropriate thing to do within the context of college sports?" he asked.

This is not the first time he has warned about the influx of money.

In a speech three years ago, Brand warned that a shift toward a professional model could lead to "an erosion of the bond between athletics and academics."

He said that colleges could not "sacrifice education and the welfare of the student-athletes to competitive success and financial return."

However, Roger Noll, an economics professor emeritus at Stanford University and a former college basketball player, said that the NCAA had set up the tournament as an efficient moneymaking enterprise.

"The right way to think about the NCAA is that it is a cartel of coaches and athletic directors maximizing their incomes," Noll said.

Teams earn $90,000 for each round of the tournament they reach, but the money doesn't go directly to the teams. Instead it goes to their athletic conference, which splits it among members.

Noll noted that the Pac-10 conference had six teams in the tournament this year. Individual teams in that conference will get more money than other conferences stand to earn.

"It's a big money-generating machine for the elite programs," Noll said. "It's divided up in such a way that it strengthens and maintains those conferences."

Those teams that win year after year then become household names and can capitalize on that.

Florida Gators fans, for instance, can buy logo mugs, blankets, sweat shirts, clocks and flags -- even T-shirts for their dogs.

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