The Big Money Behind The Big Dance

In 2019, the American Athletic Conference will still have roughly 2.5 million reasons to smile about Louisville’s appearance in tonight’s National Championship game, along with Syracuse’s Final Four appearance.

Along with the pride of surviving and advancing in the NCAA Tournament and the historical significance of winning a championship, each tournament meeting during the first two weekends carries the weight of a “unit” from the NCAA Basketball Fund. For the uninitiated, a school earns its conference a “unit” of the fund for each tournament game it plays, except for the National Championship. Thus, a school can earn a maximum of five units each season for its conference, to be distributed amongst its leaguemates at the conference’s discretion.

Furthermore, those units are distributed for six years. For example, 2013-14 will mark the last year that the ACC receives five units for North Carolina’s 2008 Final Four appearance (along with two units from Duke and Miami, and another unit from Clemson, from that tournament). Thus, the five units for a Final Four appearance actually amounts to 30 units over its lifespan.

How much is a unit worth? This year, the value of a unit is $245,514. That number has increased roughly one percent for the past two years. On that scale, the value of a unit will exceed $250,000 for the 2014-15 year and $260,000 by 2018-19. Thus, for Duke’s Elite Eight appearance (four units), the ACC will receive close to $1 million per year for the next six years.

Thus, for making the trip to Atlanta, Syracuse and Louisville will net their respective conferences a cool $1.25 million a year until 2019. However, that conference will not be the ACC, despite the fact that Syracuse will be a member of the conference for all six of those years. Instead, those units will remain with the conference formerly known as the Big East, to be shared amongst the schools remaining in the conference and their newcomers from Conference USA.

All told, 74 Louisville units and 73 Syracuse units will be distributed to the American Athletic Conference over the next six years. 30 Pittsburgh units will also go to the AAC during that span. However, Notre Dame’s 24 units will not. The Irish retained their units of the pool at the expense of other conference funds. By comparison, the ACC will retain Maryland’s 10 units from the Basketball Fund: Two units from 2009-10 for three more years, two units from 2008-09 for two more years.

If we price each of those units at $250,000 (more than their current value, but less than their eventual value), the old Big East will receive $44,250,000 from the NCAA Basketball Fund thanks Louisville, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh. That’s not including whatever units Louisville will earn for the conference next year, when they will still be a year away from joining the ACC.

The teams that will carry the most benefit for the ACC from the past six NCAA Tournaments will be Duke and North Carolina. The Blue Devils will provide 64 units to the conference, while North Carolina adds 63 units. Florida State will add 27 units to the pool, while Notre Dame slots in fourth with its 24 units.

Of course, this is not a permanent issue. Next year, Pittsburgh and Syracuse will be contributing to the ACC’s share of the NCAA Basketball Fund, with Louisville following shortly thereafter. If their consistent performances in the NCAA Tournament continue, they will provide additional Basketball Fund availability to the conference, which has struggled in recent years to perform at that level. The stiffer competition may also encourage the selection committees of future tournaments to include more conference teams, which would also lead to more units from the Basketball Fund.

Here is a breakdown of the units current and future members of the ACC have earned over the past six seasons.

NCAA Tournament units from the Basketball Fund accrued over the past six seasons.
NCAA Tournament units from the Basketball Fund accrued over the past six seasons. Total Unit Value represents the total number of units the school will provide for its conference between now and 2019 based on the last six seasons. *Notre Dame will take its units to the ACC.

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