The NCAA Tournament is one of the biggest, most popular championship events in the American sports lexicon — and one West Virginia coach Bob Huggins feels power conferences should drop.
The Mountaineers coach, speaking to ESPN at Big 12 Media Day on Wednesday, said it would behoove teams from power conferences to create a championship tournament separate from smaller programs. The reason? To better control the amount of money from the NCAA’s most lucrative event and allow college basketball’s premier teams to remain financially relevant in the larger collegiate athletics landscape.
“They’re doing it in football,” Huggins told ESPN. “Why wouldn’t they do it? The presidents and athletic directors that have all the juice, why wouldn’t they do it? Makes no sense why they wouldn’t do it. I think it’s more, ‘Why wouldn’t they?’ than, ‘Why would they?’ And then, the other people, they can have their own tournament.”
Huggins’ comments come at a time where conference realignment dominates the college football landscape. Oklahoma and Texas’ defection from the Big 12 to the SEC has created the latest wave of realignment, with the Big 12 accepting independent BYU and, out of the American Athletic Conference, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF to offset the loss of the Sooners and Longhorns. The AAC, in turn, is looking to add six teams from Conference USA: Florida Atlantic, Charlotte, North Texas, UTSA, Rice and UAB.
Huggins has coached at schools across the spectrum of college basketball, leading Akron both as a member of the Ohio Valley Conference and as an independent; Cincinnati in the Metro Conference, defunct Great Midwest Conference and Conference USA; Kansas State of the Big 12; and West Virginia of the Big East and Big 12.
The 37th-year coach said the prospect of missing out on Cinderella runs and huge upsets shouldn’t inform how power programs make decisions.
“Those Cinderella schools are putting 200 people, at best, in their gym,” Huggins said. “We’re putting 14,000.”
The NCAA in 2016 signed an extension with CBS and Turner Broadcasting, giving them TV rights for the NCAA Tournament through 2032 — an eight-year, $8.8 billion deal. The fact the NCAA earns the bulk of its annual revenue through that deal led TCU coach Jamie Dixon to agree in sentiment with Huggins’ suggestion, in particular the disbursement of money.
“I always laugh about the NCAA Tournament in college basketball and about how it doesn’t make sense how the money is dispersed and where it goes,” Dixon told ESPN. “And football has become bigger and the decision-maker in this realignment because of the disbursement of money. And I don’t know that we’ve done our best job with marketing and promoting and building on basketball, because really, the NCAA’s only goal is to keep that NCAA Tournament as their sole moneymaker.”
To that end, Huggins said it’s important for college basketball to try something to remain at the same table as college football in terms of decision-making.
“We have no power because we don’t generate the same kind of TV income that football does,” Huggins said. “But we don’t try to.”