The NCAA tournament has catapulted obscure schools in unknown locations into the living rooms of Americans across the nation. Every year, unknown schools like Valparaiso, Santa Clara, and George Mason pull monstrous upsets that become the talking point of the country. Certainly, this year will be no different.
In the Rocky Mountain region there are approximately twenty division I basketball programs competing for spots in this tournament. Besides the exposure mentioned above, the schools and member conferences receive a huge financial burst when they appear in the tournament and even more when they win. Ultimately, the notoriety, prestige and money that come with winning in the NCAA tournament make schools spend time, money and resources.
The largest basketball budget in the Rocky Mountain region is the University of Colorado which spent over 3 million dollars last year. Keep in mind Colorado won seven games last year and their coach announced he was leaving before the season even started! If this seems like a waste of 3 million dollars you might be right. CU's combined conference record over the past 15 years is 88-134.
The largest basketball budget in Utah is the University of Utah which spends 2.5 million dollars on its basketball program. This isn't much when you consider that Duke's budget topped 8 million last year.
Three main conferences touch Salt Lake City - the Mountain West, WAC and Big Sky. Mountain West schools spend roughly 2 million on dollars on their basketball programs. This ranges from CSU's 1.7 million to 2.7 million at UNLV and New Mexico. Utah State's budget is 1.3 million which places it roughly in the middle of the WAC. Interestingly, Utah Valley which has no conference affiliation and therefor no NCAA tournament bid, spent 525k on chasing a dream which doesn't even exist last year. That was more than Weber State whose expenses totaled only 507k a year ago yet actually reached the NCAA tournament.
If you think Montana dominates in the Big Sky because of it's great recruiting base, think again. Montana's basketball program spent 1.4 million last year. Those are typical expenses for a WAC school and almost triple what Weber State spent. If you want an up and coming school in the region look at Denver University which spent 1.4 million dollars trying to get to the NCAA tournament last year - not much less than CSU's 1.7 million or Wyoming's 1.8 million. Big Sky newcomer Northern Colorado spent 655k last year.
The point of all of this is that when you watch the games this year see more than the names on the jersey's or the flashy suits the coaches are wearing and realize that behind every school and every program is money. And although this all might seem like a reason why the bigger schools should always beat the little schools remember in 1999 Weber State (507k) beat North Carolina (4.7 million) in the first round of the NCAA tournament 76-74.