What’s an NCAA Tournament upset worth? Units = big bucks
UMBC made more than history in the NCAA Tournament.
By becoming the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1, the Retrievers made about $1.7 million for the America East Conference. Loyola-Chicago’s buzzer-beating run to the Sweet 16 will be worth double that to the Missouri Valley Conference. Nevada’s consecutive comebacks were also worth about $3.4 million for the Mountain West. The MVC and Mountain West will pocket at least as much from NCAA Tournament units as the Pac-12, which had three teams in the field, all bounced after one game each.
Units are what the NCAA calls its revenue distributions from the basketball performance fund, which rewards teams for tournament performance. The NCAA Tournament generates more than $700 million in revenue for the association and its schools, the vast majority from its media rights deal with CBS and Turner.
Units for this year’s tournament are worth approximately $273,000, according to the NCAA, but their value ends up being greater than that.
The units are paid out annually each of the next six years, increasing in value each year by about 2-3 percent. The payout system means that one upset by UMBC should be worth more than $1.7 million. Units are earned every game a team appears in, with the exception of the first game played by an automatic qualifier and the NCAA championship game.
The money goes to the conferences, unless the school is an independent in basketball. The NCAA encourages equal distribution by conferences among its members, but it is not required. Most do.
The Missouri Valley has in the past received multiple bids, but only champion Loyola-Chicago got in as an automatic qualifier this year. The MVC distributes the units revenue equally among 10 members — though the NCAA Tournament participants receive an additional half-share to cover travel expenses, MVC spokesman Ryan Davis said Sunday.
The Atlantic Coast Conference has been rolling in units in recent years, with a total of 64 from 2015-17, worth more than $100 million . This season, the ACC got nine teams into the field, more than any other conference, and placed four teams in Sweet 16. Two of them — Duke and Syracuse — play in the regional semifinals, limiting the conference’s earning potential.
The Big 12 also placed four teams in the round of 16. The Southeastern Conference and Big Ten each have two.
For the ACC — and other Power Five conferences — NCAA units account for less than 10 percent of conference revenue. The ACC reported $373.4 million in revenue for fiscal year 2016 — most of which comes from a television rights deals with ESPN — and paid out about $25 million to each of its members.
For low-major Division I schools such as UMBC and the eight other members of the America East, those units are real money.
UMBC’s athletic budget for 2017 was $9.3 million. NCAA records from 2010-15 show the America East earned a total of eight units and $2,086,514 in basketball revenue.
Over that same period of time, the Missouri Valley earned 21 units and $5,477,099. The Mountain West earned 33 and $8,606,870.
All that money helps explain why the American Athletic Conference lured tournament-regular Wichita State from the MVC last year, despite the Shockers not having a football team, and why the Mountain West is trying to strike a similar deal to pull Gonzaga out of the West Coast Conference.
The Shockers went out in the first round, upset by Marshall, Conference USA’s only tournament team. But Gonzaga is back in the Sweet 16 after padding the WCC coffers with a Final Four appearance last year.
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