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The NCAA will pay travel expenses for families of players in the Final Four

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Does the benevolence of Mark Emmert and his associates know no bounds?

"Great win guys! Who's buying? Because it's never me."
"Great win guys! Who's buying? Because it's never me."
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA has announced a pilot program that will pay for players' families to travel to the Final Four. By the end of this post, I hope to have convinced you that this is stupid.

First, let's take a look at the program. The NCAA will pay up to $3,000 total for travel, hotel, and meal expenses for family members of each player that goes to the Final Four. If your team advances and your family stays around for the championship game, that number rises to $4,000 for each player's family.

On the surface this is a pretty sweet deal; if your kid gets to the Final Four, Papa Mark and the good folks at the NCAA will pick up the tab to let you go watch the game in person. It seems generous, but is it?

Well... the NCAA was holding $627 million in assets at the end of 2013, thanks to running a surplus of $61 million that year. They also saw their endowment grow $44 million to $326 million at that time. According to this piece from the Indy Star from March of 2014, the revenue from 2013 tournament totaled $769.4 million. Compared to those numbers, $4k here or there suddenly doesn't seem like that big of a deal.

A better deal would be to extend the same offer to the families of every player in the tournament. At the very most, each team is going to have 15 guys on its roster, and I'm guessing they're all going to want to travel. We'll ignore that players redshirting aren't eligible to play and walk-ons likely only need to pack their warmups and just say that each game will feature 30 total players (excuse me, "student-athletes") - 15 on each side.

From their own numbers, it looks like the NCAA figures it can cover family expenses for a weekend of games for each player with $4,000 dollars. The NCAA tournament takes place over the course of three weekends. The first involves 68 teams, the second 16 teams, and the third 4 teams. I recognize this simplified math ignores the cost of the Dayton games, but it also ignores the savings from having half the teams being eliminated halfway through each weekend, so I suspect it all evens out.

Anyway, crunch the numbers and you find that it would take about $8 million to cover families for the first weekend, just under $2 million to cover families for the second weekend, and less than half a million dollars for the Final Four weekend. For no more than - keep in mind that (a) they cover up to $4,000 in expenses and (b) plenty of families won't rack that up because they live nearby or their kid gets eliminated in his first game - $10.5 million, the NCAA could cover travel, hotel, and meal costs for the families of every single kid who plays or rides a bench in the NCAA tournament.

$10.5 million is 1.3% of the total revenue the NCAA earns from the NCAA men's basketball tournament every year.

When Ohio knocked off Georgetown in 2010, star freshman DJ Cooper had 1,014 miles of road between him and his native Chicago. Remember when Norfolk State knocked off Missouri as a #15 seed? Star center Kyle O'Quinn was playing 1,266 miles from his home in Jamaica, NY. Mercer forward Bud Thomas averaged 8.9/4.0/2.0 for their 2013-2014 team, but he was 1,600 miles from his Colorado home when the team scored their historic upset of Duke in last year's tournament.

Each of these guys - and each of their teammates and opponents - deserved to be able to play out their dreams in front of their families. Each of them also deserved to be able to collapse into a loved one's arms when their seasons and often their careers came to an end in front of the CBS cameras. For no more than 1.3% of the revenue the event generates, the NCAA could have made that happen.

So yeah, the NCAA has announced a pilot program that will pay for players' families to travel to the Final Four. This is penury masquerading as largesse. This is the smallest possible step in the right direction. The NCAA isn't in any financial danger; wouldn't it be nice if they started doing right by the players?