Mountain West Basketball: Measuring Return on Investment for Each School

Mountain West Basketball: Measuring Return on Investment for Each School

Mountain West Basketball

Mountain West Basketball: Measuring Return on Investment for Each School

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Measuring return on investment in MWC basketball


A look at each school’s on-court success as a function of their spending


Contact/Follow @andrewdieckhoff
& @MWCwire

Which programs have done more with less?

Recently, I conducted some independent research about return on investment in Division I basketball. To measure this, I looked at financial reports from the Equity in Athletics Data Analysis, published by the Department of Education since 2003. The reporting is delayed by two years, so the available data only run through 2017, but there is still a lot of valuable information in there. The reports include information on revenues and expenses, the latter of which include coaching salaries, financial aid money, recruiting expenses, and operating expenses.

But finances are just one half of the equation. The other half is to try to quantify returns in college hoops. At first, I just looked at raw wins and winning percentage to determine this, but have since revised my measurements to also include strength of schedule and NCAA Tournament results. The finished metric is something I call adjusted return on expenses, or ROE+.

Here’s a quick summary of how ROE+ is calculated:

  • Strength of Schedule – taken from Sports-Reference, adjusted to scale from 0 to 1
  • NCAA Tournament Points
    ◦ 1 point – eliminated in Round of 64/65/68
    ◦ 2 points – eliminated in Round of 32
    ◦ 4 points – eliminated in Sweet 16
    ◦ 8 points – eliminated in Elite 8
    ◦ 16 points – eliminated in Final 4
    ◦ 32 points – eliminated in Championship
    ◦ 64 points – won National Championship
  • Relative Spending = Team Expenses / National Average Expenses in a given year
  • Adjusted Returns = (Average Annual Wins + Total NCAAT Pts.) * SOS * Win%
  • ROE+ = Adjusted Returns / Relative Spending

I’ve looked at the data from the last ten available seasons, spanning from 2008 to 2017. One note I want to make is that Air Force is not included in the EADA reports. Along with Army and Navy, these schools do not receive Title IV funds for financial aid through the Department of Education. Instead, these military schools fall under the umbrella of the Department of Defense. Thus, they are exempted from reporting to the EADA.
However, the numbers are available for the rest of the 13 schools that have played in the Mountain West since the 2007-08 season. Each of the programs listed below played at least four seasons in the league, while five of them have been in the MWC from the get-go: Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, and Wyoming.

A few notes on reading these results:

  • Seasons listed refer to the end date of the season; “2008” refers to the 2007-08 season
  • In the national rankings, teams who spent time in multiple conferences are treated as separate entities. Boise State, for example, has two entries – one for their time in the WAC and one for the Mountain West. The resultant list from 2008 to 2017 includes 450 teams.
  • The national spending average has increased every year since 2008. Thus, Utah’s yearly average of $3.21 million from 2008-11 was well above average, while Utah State’s average of $3.37 million from 2014-17 was actually below average.
  • The scale for ROE+ goes from 18.31 (Butler – Horizon League) to 0.40 (Alabama A&M – SWAC). The mean ROE+ score is 5.67, with a median of 5.22.

So, without further adieu, here is how the Mountain West teams stack up.

1. Boise State – 12.13 ROE+

  • National rank: 17
  • Seasons in MWC: 2012-17
  • NCAA Tournament points: 2
  • Average wins: 20.0 (0.615 win%, 0.647 SOS)
  • Relative spending average: 66.8% ($2.4 million)

2. BYU – 10.37 ROE+

  • National rank: 36
  • Seasons in MWC: 2008-11
  • NCAA Tournament points: 8
  • Average wins: 28.5 (0.807 win%, 0.695 SOS)
  • Relative spending average: 165.0% ($4.4 million)

3. San Diego State – 8.97 ROE+

  • National rank: 63
  • Seasons in MWC: 2008-17
  • NCAA Tournament points: 14
  • Average wins: 25.9 (0.735 win%, 0.704 SOS)
  • Relative spending average: 157.4% ($5.0 million)

4. New Mexico – 8.52 ROE+

  • National rank: 76
  • Seasons in MWC: 2008-17
  • NCAA Tournament points: 6
  • Average wins: 23.1 (0.685 win%, 0.671 SOS)
  • Relative spending average: 127.8% ($3.9 million)

5. Fresno State – 7.72 ROE+

  • National rank: 89
  • Seasons in MWC: 2013-17
  • NCAA Tournament points: 1
  • Average wins: 18.4 (0.539 win%, 0.640 SOS)
  • Relative spending average: 83.1% ($3.0 million)

6. Nevada – 7.07 ROE+

  • National rank: 116
  • Seasons in MWC: 2013-17
  • NCAA Tournament points: 1
  • Average wins: 17.6 (0.516 win%, 0.618 SOS)
  • Relative spending average: 80.2% ($2.9 million)

7. UNLV – 6.88 ROE+

  • National rank: 127
  • Seasons in MWC: 2008-17
  • NCAA Tournament points: 6
  • Average wins: 21.5 (0.639 win%, 0.698 SOS)
  • Relative spending average: 143.7% ($4.5 million)

8. Wyoming – 6.10 ROE+

  • National rank: 168
  • Seasons in MWC: 2008-17
  • NCAA Tournament points: 1
  • Average wins: 17.2 (0.515 win%, 0.623 SOS
  • Relative spending average: 90.9% ($2.9 million)

9. Colorado State – 5.85 ROE+

  • National rank: 182
  • Seasons in MWC: 2008-17
  • NCAA Tournament points: 3
  • Average wins: 18.2 (0.546 win%, 0.665 SOS)
  • Relative spending average: 114.8% ($3.7 million)

10. Utah – 5.81 ROE+

  • National rank: 186
  • Seasons in MWC: 2008-11
  • NCAA Tournament points: 1
  • Average wins: 17.3 (0.531 win%, 0.761 SOS)
  • Relative spending average: 121.7% ($3.2 million)

11. Utah State – 5.64 ROE+

  • National rank: 198
  • Seasons in MWC: 2014-17
  • NCAA Tournament points: 0
  • Average wins: 16.8 (0.532 win%, 0.580 SOS)
  • Relative spending average: 91.6% ($3.4 million)

12. TCU – 2.23 ROE+

  • National rank: 411
  • Seasons in MWC: 2008-12
  • NCAA Tournament points: 0
  • Average wins: 14.0 (0.441 win%, 0.673 SOS)
  • Relative spending average: 186.4% ($5.1 million)

13. San Jose State – 2.13 ROE+

  • National rank: 417
  • Seasons in MWC: 2014-17
  • NCAA Tournament points: 0
  • Average wins: 8.0 (0.262 win%, 0.581 SOS)
  • Relative spending average: 57.2% ($2.1 million)

As measured by this return on investment metric, the team that has had the most success relative to their spending has been Boise State. The Broncos had the second-lowest relative spending average in the league, yet still managed to win 20 games per season after their move to the Mountain West. They also helped their case a bit with two NCAA Tournament bids, albeit with no victories.

The next three teams were all pretty big spenders. BYU, San Diego State, and New Mexico ranked second, third, and fifth in spending, respectively, during their times in the Mountain West. But those dollars translated into a lot of success on the hardwood. These teams also had the highest number of average wins. The Aztecs’ 14 NCAA Tournament points were also the most in the league.

Fresno State and Nevada are two cases that are more similar to Boise State: low investment, pretty good results. I imagine that when I look at these numbers again after the past two seasons are reported, these two will see significant boost in their ROE+ scores, so long as their spending stays somewhat constant. Wyoming and Utah State are also teams whose yearly expenses while in the MWC have come in under the national average, while posting records over .500 with above-average strength of schedule. However, their spending is a little higher and their results not quite as good, resulting in their being lower in the standings.

On the other side of things, teams like UNLV, Colorado State, and Utah all spent more than the national average. However, those expenses didn’t turn into wins the same way they did for the teams mentioned above. The Runnin’ Rebels were clearly the most successful of this trio, with six NCAA Tournament points between 2008-17. They also boast the highest winning percentage and strength of schedule of these three programs. Their spending, though, was fourth-highest in the MWC during the years included in the study.

And then there’s the cellar. The top 11 teams included in the data all fall easily into the top half of the standings, with only Utah State owning an ROE+ score below the mean. But then there is a huge drop-off. Both TCU and San Jose State are among the bottom 40 schools for their respective times in the Mountain West. But their profiles are actually quite disparate.

TCU was the highest-spending team in the league over the five years included in these data, finishing either first or second in spending each season. Certainly, their position in a major metropolitan area has to account for some of these operating expenses, but the school also made a clear investment in improving their athletic image. And while the dollars rolled in, the wins did not. The Horned Frogs only had one winning season in the Mountain West, before packing their bags for the Big 12.

San Jose State, on the other hand, had the lowest relative spending average of any program in the Mountain West – by a pretty large margin. Their 57.2% score in this metric is on par with the Big West Conference, whose overall ten-year average spending was also 57.2%. However, like we saw with Boise State and others, low spending doesn’t preclude success. There are obviously other factors in play here, such as the quality of coaching, roster turnover, and fan interest. As I noted in my first report on return on investment, being in close proximity to NBA teams can be a contributing factor to a lack of success for some college programs. Other prominent examples on the national level include DePaul, Fordham, and Rutgers.

So, what does this all mean?

If nothing else, this should serve as a feather in the cap of schools who don’t spend a lot of money, but are able to produce results nonetheless. Scoring highly in this metric is a general reflection of a program’s ability to coach, recruit, and generate fan support, even without having to pour untold sums of money into the team.

While I highly doubt that any university administrators will look at this and make financial decisions based upon it, it does provide some evidence for which programs have been able to do more with less.

Andrew Dieckhoff covers basketball for Mountain West Wire. He also contributes to Busting Brackets of the FanSided Network and runs the Dieckhoff Power Index, a website for college basketball analytics and bracketology. Andrew is a current USBWA member.

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