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Butler: Being in A-10 pays off for Bonnies

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Posted: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 10:55 am | Updated: 11:44 am, Wed Apr 30, 2014.

ST. BONAVENTURE — Every year, St. Bonaventure basketball fans know to root for their conference brethren in the NCAA Tournament because it’s financially beneficial to their program.

But how exactly?

Bona athletic director Steve Watson addressed that question and other key points pertaining to the Bonnies’ membership in the Atlantic 10 during an on-campus presentation on Friday afternoon.

The two key elements?

How Bona is positively affected from both a financial and exposure aspect by being in arguably the best basketball-driven conference in the nation.

First, there’s the financial aspect outside of what’s made strictly through men’s basketball.

Watson said that total NCAA revenue for 2012-13 was $900 million, $600 million of which came back to Division I membership schools as “straight money impacting us.” In the 2013 fiscal year, out of that pot, Bona received just over $175,000.

“We get money for academic enhancement, grants-in-aid (scholarship money), sports sponsorship and student assistance,” he said. “The important thing to know is that a lot of that is restricted. A great example is academic assistance. That money that comes in, just under $70,000, has to be spent directly or indirectly on academic support for student athletes.”

 Of much greater consequence, however, is the financial gain Bona sees from men’s basketball — through both the Atlantic 10’s current lucrative television contract and “units” from NCAA Tournament appearances. And this is biggest reason why it’s beneficial for a small school like Bona to be in the A-10 despite being matched with bigger schools which operate on much bigger budgets.

As Watson explained, an NCAA Tournament “unit” is awarded per school and per game played.

“So every game you play in the NCAA Tournament, you earn a unit,” he said. Each unit these days, Watson noted, is worth $250,000. All of that money goes straight to the conference and is paid out over a six-year period.

“We don’t get that money directly,” said Watson, whose program earned one unit with its NCAA game against Florida State in 2012. “That money goes to the conference and the conference decides how they distribute it.”

The Atlantic 10, in the six-year window from 2008-13, collected 42 units, so in the 2013 fiscal year, the league received $10.5 million “strictly from men’s basketball success.”

“From a national standpoint, we were seventh of 31 conferences,” Watson said. “The only ones ahead of us are the (six) power conferences.”

And with the conference’s growing success — this year it sent a record six teams to the Big Dance with Dayton advancing all the way to the Elite 8 — that’s a huge plus for St. Bonaventure and its athletic department.

“For us, being in the Atlantic 10’s a huge advantage,” Watson said. “The fact that we’re in such a successful conference, we have so many teams reaching the NCAA Tournament, we all repeat the benefits. So we always tell people, when Dayton advances, you root for Dayton, you want them to win as many games as they can. The more they win, the better for us.”

And while a lot of conferences split those earnings evenly, the A-10 has a performance-based distribution model.

“We reward schools for success in men’s basketball,” Watson said. “The money comes in through men’s basketball success and the conference gives it back out based on men’s basketball success.”

Seventy-five percent of the Atlantic 10’s $4.1 million “unit” profit in 2013 (or $2.9 million) was distributed among its members. Over the course of those six years, Xavier, one of the league’s banner programs, had earned 16 units, and so its allotment came to $1.4 million. Bona earned one unit in that span, and so it was given $87,000 (the lowest figure in the league).

“All that money comes into the conference … take away their expenses, and at the end of the day, that unit, after filtering through the conference, comes out to just under $90,000,” Watson said.

The other 25 percent of that figure is the equity share — every school was given $60,000. So in 2013, Bona made $147,000 based off the conference’s basketball success. Watson said the projection is that the equity share will be around $130,000 and the unit share to be around $200,000 next year.

“We’re looking at significant growth because of our television agreement and the success of the conference,” he said. “We’re seeing some financial gain.”

In terms of television, the A-10, just last year, negotiated its biggest and most lucrative deal in its history, reaching agreements with ESPN, CBS, CBS Sports and NBC Sports Network. The league had 71 nationally-televised games, 42 on SNY and another 195 on local TV networks.

“It was one of the best television packages in the country,” Watson said.

Bona, a direct beneficiary of that financial windfall, was part of 17 televised games, with nine coming on national TV, including three in the Reilly Center.

“It was great exposure for the university, the athletic department and our basketball program,” Watson said.

The league now has a footprint on 32 million television viewers, or 28 percent of the national market, and, for the time being, plays its conference tournament in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center … the hoops capital and biggest television market in the country. That’s exposure Bona and the A-10 have never had before.

How big is that kind of league tournament attention for Bona?

Back in March, Jordan Gathers’ shot to beat top-seeded Saint Louis in the quarterfinal round was the No. 1 play on SportsCenter that night and the top play for the weekend. In 2012, when the Bonnies won the A-10 championship on CBS in Atlantic City, “St. Bonaventure” was the most Googled entry for more than a day.

  

“As we’re talking about what value athletics brings to an institution, it helps with enrollment, it gives our institution visibility in all of these areas,” Watson said. “Every time I saw Jordan’s shot (on a replay), I smiled. You can’t pay for that kind of visibility.”

Watson spent a couple minutes in his presentation talking about how there is really no direct financial gain involved with the school’s (and conference’s) other sports — although the women’s basketball success has certainly helped from an exposure standpoint.

The bottom line is that it has mostly been beneficial for all of the Bonnies’ athletics programs by being a member of the continually growing Atlantic 10.

(J.P. Butler, a Times Herald sports writer, can be reached at sports@oleantimesherald.com)

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