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NCAA tournament: every school’s a winner

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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A basketball sits on the NCAA logo at center court of the basaketball floor of the Greensboro Coliseum Complex during the second round of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament, March 16, 2012 (Credit: USA Today/Bob Donnan)

Thursday marked the beginning of this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament for most teams. March Madness, as it’s affectionately called, is the focal point of the year for many college basketball fans. Even those who don’t normally follow college basketball throughout the season tend to get excited when tournament time comes around as evidenced by the 60 million plus Americans that fill out a bracket each year. However, in a recent Washington Post article titled “Fund and Games,” Will Hobson discusses March Madness from a slightly different perspective. Rather than focusing on the games, Hobson details the financial side of the tournament and how the impact of winning extends well beyond the court.

Each team that is fortunate enough to still be playing once the regular season ends earns their conference $1.67 million with an additional $1.67 million for every round that it advances up to the Final Four. That means the four schools that make it all the way to the semifinals stand to earn around $8.33 million for their conference, who then distributes the money among its constituent schools. And if recent trends continue, that number will only increase in the years ahead.

While that may seem like a lot, it’s important to realize that the NCAA makes more than $700 million on the men’s basketball tournament each year. Nearly $220 million of that, called the basketball fund, is divvyed up to the teams with the rest going to pay for the NCAA’s expenses. As Hobson writes, the “men’s basketball tournament basically funds the NCAA’s existence.”   

The same could be said for many of the smaller conferences. While the Power-5 schools, those in the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, Big 10, and ACC, typically make upwards of $14 million dollars a year from the tournament that money accounts for a relatively small portion of their budgets. That is not the case for the smaller conferences where, in the Mountain West for example, their $6.6 million portion of the basketball fund accounts for 67% of yearly revenues. Each conference has its own way of dividing the resources with some giving more of the winnings to the schools that experience success in the tournament, but each school still gets a portion.

If these conferences didn’t share the money between all of their constituent schools, many would find it much more difficult to operate. In a good year, the smaller conferences may have 2 or 3 representatives in the tournament but that is enough to provide for the rest. By sharing their resources, both the individual schools and the conference are able to succeed in a way that would not otherwise be possible.

The Church is meant to operate in a similar way. In Acts 2:44-45, Luke describes how the early believers “had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” This sort of giving was not a mandate for all believers or even expected of all those with resources. After all, giving should always be done according to God’s will and guidance. Nor is this text saying that every believer should sell their home and all they own in order to give it to the poor. Rather, what this text demonstrates is that when the Church is acting according to God’s will, Christians do what they can to address the needs of those around them.

Randall Everett once said “I have no right to preach the gospel to a hungry person.” That is essentially what passages like this one in Acts are trying to teach. God’s will is not that all believers should become poor in caring for the poor, though if that is something God calls you to do you should be ready to obey. But the gospel message of God’s love takes on a special relevance in the world around us when that love is demonstrated through our actions.

Those actions might consist of giving our resources but, even more often, in giving our time. An open checkbook does not compensate for a closed schedule. God wants access to both and, if Israel’s history teaches us anything, it’s that there are consequences for trying to buy him off. None of that decreases our need to give back to God financially but make sure that your giving extends far beyond what is put in the offering plate on Sunday mornings.

So where does God want you to give of your time and resources? Pray and ask for his guidance, then be faithful to act on what he shows you. Your gifts, when given according to God’s will, can have a larger impact on the kingdom than you can possibly imagine. How will you contribute today?