April 05, 2019

Best of the Week

Money madness: AP analyzes, how much is that NCAA berth worth?

It’s no secret that the NCAA college basketball tournament is big business. But just how big, and how has the pie been divided?

The New York-based team of college sports reporter Ralph Russo and data journalist Larry Fenn took on that reporting and accounting challenge, making AP the first news organization to document who received more than $3 billion in March Madness payouts over two decades.

Complicating their task was the fact that the NCAA referred to payments with a complex “unit” formula, while 32 different athletic conferences had their own rules for distributing the funds back to schools. Russo peppered the NCAA with questions, ultimately getting detailed numbers back to 1997. Fenn parsed tournament results to quantify wins and bids that qualified for payment under the system.

The work led to several stories by Russo and his colleagues in Sports detailing the money side of the annual tournament, including diminishing shares for smaller conferences, an explainer on the system itself and the value of the final invitations to the field. Fenn also collaborated on a data distribution for members doing their own stories focused on individual schools, as well as a robust interactive.

The AP-exclusive stories drew extensive play in the heat of March Madness, showcasing the power of AP when we think ambitiously and outside the box, even around annual events already in the glare of the media spotlight. For their outstanding work, Russo and Fenn win AP’s Best of the Week.

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