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NCAA run worth millions

The upstart run for Loyola Chicago making the Final Four last year delivered more than just excitement for fans of Sister Jean and the Ramblers.

Loyola's run will be worth at least $8.45 million to the Missouri Valley Conference over the next six years.

It's payable to the league from the NCAA, through a complex system of payouts funded largely by the lucrative deal for CBS and Turner Sports to televise March Madness.

The system puts an exact price tag on bids and wins leading up to the Final Four. And once conferences are paid, they distribute money back to their member schools.

"Units" are what the NCAA calls its tally of wins, automatic qualifiers and at-large bids that determine how much conferences are paid.

Each distribution year is assigned a value for a single unit, which is then applied to units earned by conferences over the previous six tournaments.

The NCAA paid conferences $216 million in 2018 — $273,500 per unit for tournament results from 2012-2017.

The value of each unit will be $280,300 when payments are made in 2019 and $282,100 in 2020.

Payments are made each April to conferences. Most conferences share the money equally among members — the NCAA's recommendation — though conferences ultimately decide for themselves how to split the earnings. In some leagues, the school that earned the unit will get a bonus. Also, many smaller leagues share the revenue by funding the conference office or league-wide initiatives.

From 1997 through 2018, the Big Ten Conference has been paid the most at $340.4 million, while the Southwest Athletic Conference has earned $25 million, nearly the minimum it can earn given that all leagues make money from their teams that qualify automatically.

Here's a look at how much some of the most surprising mid-major Final Four runs have been worth to their conferences:

  • George Mason, 2006: The Patriots earned five units for the Colonial Athletic Association, worth $6.39 million.
  • Butler, 2010: The Bulldogs earned five units for the Horizon League, worth $7.46 million.
  • VCU, 2011: The Rams earned six units for the Colonial Athletic Association, going from the First Four to the Final Four, worth $9.12 million. VCU and George Mason move to the Atlantic 10 Conference in 2012.
  • Butler, 2011: The Bulldogs earned five units for the Horizon League, worth $7.6 million. The Horizon League has not earned more than one unit in the tournament since 2011.
  • Wichita State, 2013: The Shockers earned five units for the Missouri Valley Conference worth $7.9 million. Wichita State moved to the American Athletic Conference in 2018.


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