The NCAA Tournament national championship trophy atop a pile of money
PLAYERS & TEAM EARNINGS

How Much Is a March Madness Upset Actually Worth?

One university president claims a single Cinderella victory by his school created nine figures in value.

The No. 14-seeded Wildcats of Abilene Christian University stunned the college basketball world last weekend when they upset the 3rd-seeded Texas Longhorns 53-52 in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 64. The small, private school with an enrollment of just 4,500 suddenly gained incredible notoriety, becoming an instant national darling.

Despite being bounced from the Big Dance in the second round by UCLA, university president Dr. Phil Schubert says the school benefited massively from the exposure value from the first-round upset.

“So far, we are close to $120 million and we haven’t had time to tally up the totals,” Schubert said via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

To put that number in perspective, ACU’s entire endowment as a school is valued at $290 million.

In 2017, Bloomberg studied the effect of March Madness upset victories on the number of applications a school later receives, and the correlation was strong. Florida Gulf Coast saw a 27.5% jump in applications following its magical run to the Sweet Sixteen in 2013, when they earned the nickname “Dunk City” from the team’s flashy finishes above the rim. When Wichita State danced their way to an improbable Final Four that same year, they enjoyed their biggest single-year application jump on record: a full 30%.

It makes you wonder what No. 15-seeded Oral Roberts’ balance sheets are looking like after scoring back-to-back upsets against Ohio State and Florida.

For mid-major programs, just getting to the NCAA Tournament is a serious milestone. Given the power of television exposure and social media, getting just a single win is big business. And with state governments steadily making progress toward enabling college athletes to benefit financially from the use of their names, images, and likenesses, players on future Cinderella teams may end up getting a piece of the action.