The NCAA Tournament, the Big Dance, March Madness — the biggest month in college basketball has many names. It’s a huge chance for colleges and universities across the country to not only compete for a national championship, but also for millions of dollars that they can earn for their institutions.
It is not as simple as you win X number of games and the school earns Y amount of dollars. Though there isn’t an easy formula, for each game that a team plays, it does make money for the entire conference.
The NCAA’s Basketball Fund is a pool of money based on revenue from the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA distributes these funds to conferences based on the number of tournament games played by the schools of the conference each year. A conference receives one “unit,” or percentage of the pool, for each tournament game played by member schools (including the play-in games but not the national championship). Whether that school wins the tournament game or not does not affect if the conference receives money.
There are exceptions. Automatic qualifying teams do not make any money for participating in a first-round game. These are teams that get to play in the tournament because they have won their conference tournament.
Each unit that is awarded to a team guarantees an annual payment from the NCAA to the conference for six years. During the 2019 tournament, one unit was worth $280,300. For the tournament in 2020, a unit will be worth $282,100. That means over six years, a tournament game appearance is worth over $1.6 million.
The conference is then encouraged to split the winnings evenly with its member schools at its discretion.
The Big Ten received the most units as a conference during the 2019 tournament, earning more than $35 million altogether from the six-year total from tournament play. That might be why the Big Ten is home to some of the most beautiful college campuses in America.