Since conference realignment swept through college sports in the early 2010s, wealthy Power Five teams have collected at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament.
During the age of COVID-19, it can be especially costly for conferences that don’t have billion-dollar television deals, like the Drake Bulldogs.
The pandemic-fueled season seems to have affected the non-Power Five even more — at a time when they can really use the cash, especially a program like Drake.
Drake, a school in the Missouri Valley Conference, is reported to have slashed its athletic budget, including a quarter of what it spends on men’s basketball, the Associated Press reports.
The cancellation of the NCAA Tournament last year due to COVID-18 safety precautions forced the association to slash its revenue distribution to schools and conferences by $375 million.
“Because of COVID and because of distribution dollars being down, we had to reduce all of our budgets at Drake 15-25%, including basketball,” Drake athletic director Brian Hardin said. “That has an impact on how you travel and how you schedule. To now sit on the bubble, you hate to think that you’re penalized for some situations that are, to a degree, out of your control.”
Drake was No. 42 in the NCAA’s NET rankings on Friday, the Bulldogs are the No. 2 seed in the MVC tournament and play Friday night after getting a bye into the quarterfinals.
If Drake stumbles at any point this weekend, the Bulldogs will sweat out selection Sunday on March 14, the AP reports.
Although NET is not the final say when it comes to which teams make up the 68 — the selection committee is — its components give a glimpse at what is holding Drake and other mid-major bubble teams back, the AP reports.
“Drake has only played six games against what the NET views as the toughest opponents in the country, teams from quads one and two,” the article states. “In conferences such as the Big Ten and Big 12, most teams have faced more than twice that many quad one and two opponents.”
The Atlantic 10 Conference, which usually has multiple teams on the journey to the NCAA Tournament, and before the official cancelation Dayton was headed to be the No. 1 seed and the Final Four favorite. But this year, the conference may only have one bid from its 14 members.
St. Bonaventure, VCU and Saint Louis could all go either way as they head into this weekend’s conference tournament, but none of the teams within the league have played a full 27-game regular season.
A-10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade told the Associated Press she is not as concerned about the potential loss of NCAA Tournament revenue as the loss of exposure.
“The residual effects of being in the NCAA championship and March Madness are benefits that really pay off for institutions for many years after they’re in,” McGlade said.
Hardin wonders if Drake’s NCAA case was hurt by managing to get in all 27 games and said the program went on pause for three weeks because of COVID-19 issues — the Bulldogs finished the season playing 14 games in 33 days.
The last seven of the 14 were spent without the team’s leading scorer, ShanQuan Hemphill, who was out due to a foot injury. Hemphill is likely to return if Drake makes the NCAA Tournament.
Hardin said it will be a restless weekend in St. Louis.
“I hate being in a position where I’m watching scores and openly cheering against other teams,” Hardin said. “But because of what the bracketologists say, you find yourself in that position.”