#DigitalSkeptic: March Madness Is Fiscal Madness

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Say it ain't so, Joe. But it looks like the once-mighty National Collegiate Athletic Association is going into sudden death Digital Age overtime against itself.

Who knows why, but with all the box scores, big data and betting spreads flowing from the looming NCAA Men's Division Basketball Championship, one critical gaming line never gets its due: the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Form 990s. These legally mandated disclosures, which must be filed yearly with regulators, show the true cost of allowing this 501(c)(3) nonprofit sports organization to do business here in these United States.

Over the years, these NCAA Form 990s have fetched some media attention. Usually, it's griping about how president Mark Emmert and two dozen or so employees listed on the forms took home about $7.5 million in 2011 -- while the kids playing the games took home nothing.

But read the 990s carefully and college sports fans should find a familiar, if darker story. For all the seeming take-no-prisoners power of the NCAA, it turns out this organization is nothing more than a legacy media brand struggling to compete with a flock of leaner, meaner competitors it helped create.

Yes, sports fans. Strictly by the numbers, the emerging group of power athletic conferences -- including the Big Ten or Atlantic Coast Conference -- are on track to take down the NCAA, and soon.

No Grade "A" for NCAA
The issues looming for this NCAA are startlingly familiar for those us who've watched the decline of such similar legacy brands as the New York Stock Exchange or The New York Times. Yes, there is a wide range of services this sports organization's disclosures says it provides, conducting "efficiently the business of the Association as directed by its members" and managing $4 million some-odd dollars in drug testing in 2011.

But the real dollars-and-cents story in these Form 990s is a simple one -- that for better or worse, the National Collegiate Athletic Association is in exactly one business: distributing the media fees it collects from tournaments and sporting events.

Take the 2012 filing. The $809 million in television rights and championship fees dwarfed the $16.9 million collected in eligibility fees and other program revenues. That gap is so large that NCAA management admits openly it must have a hedge if that TV-dollar spigot ever dries up.

"With the concentration of the NCAA's revenues coming from one primary source, the executive committee has established a long-term goal of the growth of the quasi-endowment to sustain operations for one year," was what I found deep in the filings.

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