St. Peter’s pulled of a historic upset versus Kentucky—a program that spends nearly 12x more on men’s basketball than the Peacocks—but it was by no means the only financial upset of the NCAA tournament’s opening round.
Indiana’s loss to St. Mary’s and New Mexico State’s victory over UConn are two more games in which the winner’s basketball budget is less than half of that of the loser—at least in 2020, which is the last year full for which figures are available.
Financial might, however, remains a relatively good way to pick winners. Of the 32 games in the opening round, 24 featured a $4+ million gap in what the two teams spent on men’s basketball. The smaller-budget team only won four of those games. This includes, surprisingly, UNC’s win over Marquette.
No upset was more surprising than the Peacocks’ 85-79 overtime win over Kentucky on Thursday night. It is the biggest financial upset in the men’s tournament in at least 15 years, and likely the largest in history, according to data schools submit annually to the U.S. Department of Education.
Mismatches are one of the major draws of March Madness, which pits some of the country’s biggest athletic departments against those with significantly smaller budgets. Kentucky paid its men’s basketball coaching staff $10.4 million in fiscal 2021, according to Sportico’s college finance database, which is $3.2 million more than the budget for the entire St. Peter’s athletic department ($7.2 million).
Schools that spend more typically have better teams, so those mismatches tend to disappear as the tournament goes on. Looking at this weekend’s games, only four of the 16—Duke vs. Michigan State, Providence vs. Richmond, UCLA vs. St. Mary’s, and Arkansas vs. New Mexico State—have a budget gap of more than $4 million. St. Peter’s will play Saturday against a team that’s more in its financial stratosphere. The Peacocks' budget is about $1.6 million; Murray State’s is about $2.5 million.