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The College of Charleston's athletic department could spend as much as $50,000 playing in the Women's Basketball Invitational tournament, but Cougars athletic director Joe Hull says it is money well spent.
The Cougars, who will play Stephen F. Austin Thursday night in the WBI semifinals at TD Arena, have already paid out $32,000 to host three games in the tournament. A win over Stephen F. Austin could see that figure jump to more than $50,000, depending on where the championship game is played.
Unlike the NCAA basketball tournament, in which teams play at neutral sites and are reimbursed for travel expenses, tournaments such as the WBI and the Women's National Invitation Tournament routinely charge teams to host games.
The Cougars paid $10,000 per game for the first two rounds in the WBI, and $12,000 for the semifinal game. In the WNIT, schools pay $6,500 for a first-round game and $7,500 for a second-round game.
Hull said the money the college is spending illustrates its commitment to the women's basketball program, which is on the verge of a 20-win season for the first time since the 2009-10 season. The thought of turning down the WBI invitation was never considered, Hull said.
We're trying to build a winning culture with our women's basketball program and believe that this is an investment in the program, the coaching staff and the players, Hull said. It's a reward for coach (Natasha) Adair and the girls and for what they accomplished this season. They've had a great season and now have a chance to win a championship. We look at this tournament as a stepping stone for the future.
Hull said tournament expenses are the cost of doing business in the postseason. Hull and his staff crunched the numbers and found that serving as a host team is cheaper than traveling. The WBI provides visiting teams $7,000 for travel expenses during the first two rounds and $9,000 for semifinals and finals, but that's less than half of what it would cost the Cougars to go on the road.
Hull said road games at Northern Kentucky (Highland Heights, Ky.), the Cougars second-round opponent, and at Stephen F. Austin (Nacogdoches, Texas) would have cost the school $15,000 to $20,000 for each game. The cost includes airfare, hotel rooms, meals and bus transportation. "Even with the $7,000 or $9,000 the WBI gives schools in travel expenses, the cost of hosting a game is better for the bottom line," Hull said. "It's not cheap to travel, especially on such late notice," he said. Economically it just made sense for us to host the games.
The Cougars, who are 12-3 at TD Arena this season, also get to keep any revenue they generate at home games. That includes ticket sales, concessions and parking. Hull doesn t have the exact figures from the first two games, but estimates the first- and second-round games brought in about $2,000 each. Attendance for each game was around 500.
"We don't break even, but every dollar helps," Hull said.
Adair, who is in her second season as head coach, said the administration s support has been invaluable.
It's great that we get to play at home and it's great that my administration supports us, Adair said. Playing in the WBI is building confidence in our young women, for them to be in a position to become champions. It's important for us to continue building something here, for our players to leave a legacy.
The $32,000 that the Cougars have invested in three games in the WBI is still less than what it cost the men's team to host George Mason in the opening round of the College Basketball Invitational a year ago. For one game in the CBI, the College of Charleston shelled out $35,000. The game drew 1,717 fans.
Schools routinely lose money even in the lucrative world of college football bowls. In 2010 and 2012, Alabama reported losing $3.76 million playing in the BCS National Championship game. In the 2012 Orange Bowl, Clemson lost $186,000. Financial figures for this past year's bowls have not been released.
Hull, who worked in the athletic departments at North Carolina State and Maryland, said it was common for ACC schools to lose money going to a bowl game.
"The truth is that most schools lose money on bowl games," he said. "Unless you go to one of the BCS bowls, chances are you're going to lose money and some schools lose money even if they do make it to a BCS bowl."