Basketball Tournament Prize at $1 Million as Fans Also Cash in

The Basketball Tournament, a five-on-five competition that last year drew former college and professional players, will double its prize to $1 million for its second year. The winning team’s fans will be paid as well.

The single-elimination tournament, which is free to enter and starts in July, will expand to 96 teams from 32, organizers said today in an e-mailed statement. The semifinals and finals in August will be carried live on ESPN.

“Last year we were able to prove the concept of a high stakes, democratic tournament, with an exceptionally skilled collection of players and an entertaining event,” founder Jonathan Mugar said in the release. “Our agreement with ESPN, along with our market expansion, further validates that we are on the track to grow even beyond what we had hoped for in year two.”

Ninety-five percent of the $1 million purse ($950,000) will be distributed to the winning team. The final $50,000 will be shared by the team’s online fan group.

Mugar and a small group of private investors held last year’s event without sponsors, advertisers or full television coverage. It was a $1.5 million gamble that the level of play and strong multimedia push would give them more leverage to negotiate contracts heading into this year.

The tournament brought former college teams together, including a number of recent Princeton graduates, and a large core of the 2010 Cornell team that advanced to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament. The winning team was led by former Big East Conference players Torin Francis, Chris Thomas and Russell Carter.

Free Event

While the event is free to enter for anyone over 18, active NCAA players can’t participate because of eligibility issues and current NBA players are contractually barred as well.

The idea started in 2011 when Jon Mugar, a television producer from Boston texted his friend asking: “What would happen if you held a winner-take-all basketball tournament, open to the public, for a ton of money?”

It idea grew from there, with a 32-team field that was whittled to two after three days at Philadelphia University. The finals were played three weeks later at Boston University, a location chosen through social media.

As it did last year, social media will play a large role in this year’s event. Most teams get automatic entry by having the most fan support on the event website.

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