Nevada basketball has provided a good return on investment, one of the best not only in the Mountain West but also in the nation. Not all MW programs have been such a bargain, thought.
College athletics, unlike pro sports, don't have salary caps. That coupled with the lack of uniform schedules always make it difficult to compare teams against one another.
But we do have program budgets, which helps. Here is how much each MW basketball program spent on basketball in the 2018 fiscal year, the last reported season, per numbers in the U.S. Department of Education.
(Note a few things: These numbers are self-reported, so they're as accuracy as we have, but they're also not always 100 percent correct. I can self report having $1 million in my bank account, but it doesn't make it true. These numbers are from last season, the most recent numbers we have, so they don't fully reflect this year's numbers, but budgets tend to go up a little each season. And we don't have Air Force's numbers because the Falcons aren't a public school).
Mountain West men's basketball budgets
1. San Diego State, $5,924,498
2. UNLV, $5,888,664
3. Colorado State, $4,512,525
4. New Mexico, $4,130,599
5. Nevada, $3,396,777
6. Utah State, $3,291,251
7. Fresno State, $3,291,010
8. Wyoming, $3,082,357
9. Boise State, $2,821,386
10. San Jose State, $2,012,188
We can break this down by cost per win, too. Let's just divide those budgets by the number of wins each team has this season to see how that money has been put to use. Obviously the season isn't over, but it's a good judge of how the money has been spent in trying to obtain wins. Here's how that breaks down.
MW cost per win this season
1. Nevada, $147,686
2. Utah State, $182,847
3. Fresno State, $193,589
4. Boise State, $256,490
5. San Diego State, $394,967
6. New Mexico, $413,060
7. UNLV, $452,974
8. Colorado State, $501,392
9. Wyoming, $513,726
10. San Jose State, $670,729
But looking at one season isn't a huge sample size. We need more seasons to evaluate. So let's count each team's win total over the last five seasons (the previous four full years and this year) and then divide that by this year's budget multiplied by five to see what its average cost per win has been since 2014 (I understand each year's budget over the last five seasons isn't the same but it gives us a rough estimate on how much schools are investing in their program).
MW cost per win from 2014-19
1. Boise State, $142,494 (99 wins)
2. Nevada, $150,300 (113 wins)
3. Fresno State, $167,909 (98 wins)
4. Wyoming, $175,134 (88 wins)
5. Utah State, $195,908 (84 wins)
6. Colorado State, $253,513 (89 wins)
7. New Mexico, $264,782 (78 wins)
8. San Diego State, $266,869 (111 wins)
9. San Jose State, $314,404 (32 wins)
10. UNLV, $368,041 (80 wins)
* Leon Rice has done a great job at Boise State. Rice got some pointed questions about the state of his program after last season's MW Tournament exit, and he didn't take to kindly to them, basically saying Broncos fans should be thrilled with the success of the team during his tenure. These numbers show why. Boise State is squeezing out the most wins per dollar in the MW over the last five seasons and has had won 20-plus games in each of the last six seasons (it probably won't hit the mark this year) despite having the league's second-smallest budget ahead of only San Jose State.
* Nevada has been an incredible bargain, although its budget has skyrocketed over the last five seasons. Five years ago, the Wolf Pack spent $1.46 million on basketball. Last year, it spent $3.397 million, an increase of nearly 135 percent. Most of that increase is coach Eric Musselman's salary as he's the highest-paid coach in the league ($1 million in guaranteed money) and is clearly worth it as he has the most wins per dollar spent in the conference since being hired in 2015.
* UNLV has been the biggest money waster, requiring $368,000 per victory over the last five seasons. It also ranks in the bottom four in dollars spent per win this season. The Rebels were so close to glory, though, as Chris Beard has turned Texas Tech into a Top 25 team and he probably would have done that same at UNLV if the the Rebels were able to keep him for longer than two weeks after hiring him in 2016.
* New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV have historically been the MW's power teams, so to see those squads ranked seventh, eighth and 10th, respectively, in cost per win over the last five seasons is not good. Those are the big spenders in the conference and they have to be the big winners, too, if the MW is going to get back to being a multiple-bid conference let alone a conference that can put three or four teams in the NCAA Tournament on an annual basis. It's also worth noting New Mexico is spending about $300,000 fewer this season than it did five years ago.
* The average MW men's basketball budget has risen from $2.68 million five seasons ago to $3.84 million last year. It's good to see the conference investing more, although it hasn't raised the profile of the conference, which has gone down over the last five years in basketball. Also worth noting how expensive college sports is. Nevada is a bargain, but it still costs $150,000 per victory. That's a lot of money for a win.
* And, finally, despite San Jose State spending the least in the league, it also is one of the worst at wins per dollar at $314,404 per victory over the last five seasons. Somebody save the Spartans.