McFeely: NDSU, UND will pay for women's basketball teams to extend seasons
Bison athletic director says $15,000 travel costs for WNIT an investment in program; Fighting Hawks will pay $17,000 entry fee plus travel costs for berth in WBI
FARGO — Matt Larsen congratulated the North Dakota State women's basketball coaching staff Monday when the Bison found out they'd be playing at Oregon in the first round of the Women's National Invitational Tournament on Friday.
"When we hired Jory we were the eighth seed. Now we're the two seed. To have an opportunity to play postseason basketball for the first time in our Division I era is exciting," Larsen said.
Indeed, coach Jory Collins and his team are embarking on a new adventure for the Bison's women's program. By finishing second in the Summit League and not earning a bid to the NCAA tournament, NDSU received an automatic bid to the WNIT, a 64-team tournament of teams not quite good enough to get to the Big Dance.
Once the undisputed behemoth of NCAA Division II, NDSU hasn't found consistent success in D-I. The Bison, in fact, have more often been bad than good since moving up.
So for now, they are happy to extend their season with a WNIT berth. It's a milestone.
It will also cost the athletic department thousands of dollars.
While teams that qualify for the men's NCAA, women's NCAA and men's NIT tournaments have their costs deferred by the NCAA, postseason tourneys like the WNIT and Women's Basketball Invitational require participating teams to pay at least some of their expenses.
In the WBI's case, costs include an entry fee plus all travel. The University of North Dakota will play in the eight-team WBI this weekend, which will cost the athletic department a $17,000 entry fee and all associated costs.
Larsen said NDSU will pay the first $15,000 of its travel costs, with the WNIT picking up the tab for anything above that. With a traveling party of about two dozen, including 15 players and four coaches, the Bison will likely burn through more than $15,000 in airline tickets to fly from Fargo to Portland.
Round-trip Delta flights from Hector International Airport to Portland International were in the range of $1,000 each as of Monday afternoon.
Then there will be costs for a bus, hotel rooms and meals.
Teams hosting WNIT games made minimum bids of $6,500 for first-round games and $7,500 for second-round games. Home teams can make that up with ticket sales and concession revenue, even turning a profit if fan turnout is big enough, although the WNIT takes a significant slice of ticket revenue.
The WNIT is owned by Triple Crown Sports, a Colorado-based for-profit sports management company.
According to a 2018 article in the Bloomington (Ind.) Herald-Times, Triple Crown Sports received a six-figure payout from the Univeristy of Indiana when the Hoosiers hosted six games in winning that year's WNIT. The university paid Triple Crown nearly $178,000 in guarantees and ticket revenue.
Larsen has consistently said any costs NDSU's athletic department incurs by participating in the WNIT are an investment in the women's basketball program.
"Absolutely," he said Monday. "We think the future is bright for women's basketball at NDSU and to earn a bid to the WNIT and participate in postseason basketball is a huge step forward for the program."
Meantime, the UND women's team will play in the WBI in Lexington, Ky. The tournament runs Friday-Sunday with UND opening against Cal Baptist.
It, too, will cost the UND athletic department to extend the Fighting Hawks' season.
WBI owner Sports Tours International Inc. (STI) of Milwaukee charges teams a $17,000 entry fee, guaranteeing three games. Participating teams will pay for transportation, hotel rooms and meals.
"We do not cover any cost for the teams," STI vice president Kelsey Long said.
UND athletic director Bill Chaves said playing three games at one site helped make the WBI attractive to the Fighting Hawks. The team was enthusiastic to continue its season at the WBI, Chaves said.
"I think for us it's a year by year proposition based on the team, based on the situation," Chaves said. "Obviously the goal is to make the NCAA tournament, but failing that we'll figure out what makes sense for us and where we are."
According to an article last year by Nevada Sports Net, the University of Nevada likely spent about $35,000 for the Wolfpack women's basketball team to play in the WBI. That estimation included a then-$15,000 entry fee and travel, including $160 per night for hotel rooms the school paid to STI.
"We provide an incredible opportunity to play three more games against great opponents," Long said.