Tuesday night you may have heard the faint chants for the Wyoming Cowboys coming from the homes of University of New Mexico Athetics administrators.
Thursday, there may be cheers of “Proud to be a C-S-U Ram!” or chants of “Let’s go Broncos!” or even some athletic department Twitter accounts secretly trying to join “The Show” – SDSU’s highly active student support group – in some in-game trash talking over social media.
The fact is, Mountain West administrators everywhere want – many would say need – the league to do more than just show up and participate in the NCAA Tournament this year.
Why? The more the entire cash-strapped league earns for the next six seasons.
“This time of year, it’s about us supporting our peers for the betterment of our league,” UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said. “Every opportunity that anyone gains to keep playing helps us all.
“Of course, we’d all want to be in there and hoping to compete in the NCAA. But if not, we have to continue to hope for success for all our peers.”
The league did get four teams in the Big Dance with Wyoming having already lost Tuesday night, which roughly equates to the entire league earning about $8 million over the next six years – money distributed mostly evenly to all 11 basketball members each fiscal year, with a small portion taken off to help the teams actually playing with expenses.
More specifically, Turner Sports/CBS Sports paid the NCAA $10.8 billion for broadcast rights of the men’s tournament in 2010 in a deal through 2024 that has averaged roughly $770 million annually paid out to the 32 conferences in Division I basketball. In 2016, there was an $8.4 billion extension through 2032, and the annual payout will eclipse $1 billion per year, just for the NCAA men’s tournament.
The money is divvied up with a formula based on units paid to the conferences, which more or less equal one unit for every game played. (Every league is guaranteed one unit a year as every league gets one automatic qualifier a year.)
Each win means another game and another unit share for the league.
The MWC is currently sitting on its lowest six-year allotment of units ever, which makes getting four teams in huge. For several years, the league was getting only one or two teams in and not winning any games.
This spring, the MWC will pay out units collected from the 2016 through 2021 tournaments. This season’s four teams in will be a part of next fiscal year’s payouts. UNM is expecting for this year’s portion of the unit payouts from the league roughly $300,000, though it hasn’t had an NCAA Tournament team in the entire cycle.
For comparison sake, look at last year’s successful tournament by the Pac-12. In 2021, the Pac-12 had five teams participate, including UCLA in the “First Four” round like Wyoming.
Each team won at least once, three made the Elite Eight and UCLA went from First Four to Final Four and the league overall made 19 units equaling $38 million for the next six years for its members.
The MWC’s two teams in last season’s tournament were each one-and-done, a familiar site in March.
This fiscal year’s payout of 10 unites over the past six seasons includes:
• 2016: 1 unit (Fresno State, 1 game)
• 2017: 1 unit (Nevada, 1 game)
• 2018: 4 units (San Diego State 1 game; Nevada 3 games)
• 2019: 2 units (Nevada 1 game; Utah State 1 game)
• 2020: 0 units (NCAA Tournament cancelled)
• 2021: 2 units (San Diego State 1 game; Utah State 1 game)
The good news moving forward is 2016’s one unit drops off the rolling payout cycle next year and the four entries this year are added. More teams in the 2023 Tournament would then replace the 2017 one unit season and the league could start stacking unites like it used to.
The high-water mark years for the league are these:
• 2011: 7 units (BYU 3 games; SDSU 3 games; UNLV 1 game)
• 2013: 7 units (UNM, UNLV, Boise State 1 game each; Colorado State, SDSU 2 games each)
• 2010: 6 units (UNM and BYU 2 games each; UNLV, SDSU 1 game each).