By Andrew Kahn
NEW YORK—Last night’s Legends Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn featured the haves and the have-nots. Which teams were which depends on your perspective. Michigan and Oregon have big-time football programs. VCU and Villanova do not. Both groups recognize advantages in their respective situations.
Schools with football teams in the Power Five conferences have 5.6 billion reasons to be grateful. That’s the estimated total (in dollars) that ESPN has paid to broadcast the college football playoff for the next 12 years. Michigan, part of the Big Ten, and Oregon, from the Pac-12, will get a piece of that. VCU, which doesn’t have a football team, and Villanova, whose team competes at the FCS level, will not.
That money can be spent on facility upgrades or anything else that helps a program improve. But there are other, less tangible benefits that football offers. Recruits, regardless of sport, are often brought to a football game during campus visits. And a successful football team can shine a light on other sports.
“What the football program has done for our university and our athletic department has been great,” Oregon basketball coach Dana Altman said after his team lost to Michigan Monday night in the semifinals of the Legends Classic. “The football coaches are very supportive of what we’re trying to do. They bring a lot of attention to Oregon.” He noted the upcoming college football playoff, and Oregon’s potential inclusion, has only increased the exposure.
Asked if there were advantages of coaching hoops at a school with big-time football, Michigan’s John Beilein said, “Absolutely. One of the reasons I decided to go to Michigan was the great tradition they have in all their sports. It also gives you incredible revenue going forward so you can have a first-class program.”
Of course, as the two other teams in the Legends Classic prove, a football team is not necessary to have a first-class basketball program. Jay Wright, whose Villanova team beat VCU and will face Michigan in tonight’s final, said he was discussing this very topic with VCU coach Shaka Smart at their hotel earlier in the day. They came to the conclusion that there’s an advantage to not being at a football school. “We’re watching all the stuff with the football conferences and it’s great for student-athletes and college athletics, but you could argue it’s easier to recruit at a basketball school. You know what’s a basketball school and what’s not. Villanova and VCU are basketball schools. It’s not that hard to build a program because everybody at the school is all in, even the janitors.”
In other words, Wright said, basketball is a “big deal” at a school like Villanova and is not overshadowed by a football team. And even without football’s money, Smart says VCU’s athletic department “gives us the resources to be competitive. They provide our student-athletes with a great experience.”
At least one school without an FBS football program has reached the Final Four six of the last nine seasons (Wichita State, Butler twice, VCU, Villanova, Georgetown, and George Mason). During that same span, traditional football powers like Michigan, Ohio State, Florida, and LSU have also made the Final Four. Football, through its presence or absence, can benefit a basketball program.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn
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