It pays, even in basketball, to be in BCS

March, 21, 2012
3/21/12
1:33
PM ET
One of the most frequent sources of debate and disdain when it comes to college football’s Bowl Championship Series is the disparity between payouts to automatic-BCS-qualifying conferences and non-automatic qualifiers.

It turns out that gulf is just as big when it comes to NCAA distributions from March Madness.

Last year, the Big East brought home more men’s basketball tournament money -- $24.9 million -- than any other conference. The most a non-automatic-qualifier conference brought home was Conference USA, at $6.95 million.

Not much is likely to change this year, as 14 of the Sweet Sixteen teams hail from automatic-qualifying football conferences. Nine are from the Big East and Big Ten conferences.

Since automatic-qualifying conferences were formed in 1998, no school outside of those has won an NCAA men’s basketball national title, and every champion since 1967 would fit into today’s FBS conference lineup. Just three national championship games since 1998 have featured a team from outside such conferences.

Although March Madness produces revenue of $771.4 million a year, as compared to $162.5 million generated by the BCS’s television contracts, the majority of conferences receive more revenue from the BCS than from the NCAA’s Basketball Fund, as the table shows.

Schools from the six automatic-qualifier football conferences brought home 47.5 percent of all money distributed by the NCAA based on performance in the tournament, while the five non-automatic-qualifier conferences banked 10.5 percent. The rest went to teams whose conferences play football at a lower level. In football, the disparity is even starker: automatic-qualifier conferences took home 85 percent of all BCS money distributed last year.

March Madness is the primary revenue generator for the NCAA, so not all money is distributed based on performance in the tournament. For 2010-11, the NCAA distributed $452 million of the approximately $771.4 million produced by its television contract.

Just $180.5 million was distributed based on performance in the NCAA tournament through what’s called the “Basketball Fund.” An almost identical amount was distributed based on how many sports each school sponsors and how many grants-in-aid each supports. The remainder is distributed for academic programs and financial assistance for student-athletes.

The Basketball Fund portion of the NCAA’s distribution each year is based on how many units each team in the tournament earns. Each team in each game except the championship game receives a unit for playing. This year each unit is worth $242,000.

Money is distributed based on a six-year rolling period by adding up all of the units earned by each school during the preceding six years. Checks are cut to the conference, not the individual school which participated in the tournament, unless the school is independent. Each conference then chooses whether to divide the money equally or based on tournament performance.

The SEC has historically divided the money it receives into 13 equal shares, with the conference keeping one share, after reimbursing participating teams for travel and rewarding them for performance. In addition, schools receive $50,000 for participating in each round up to the Final Four and $100,000 for appearing in the Final Four.

The Big 12 distributed by an entirely different method in 2010-11. Each member institution was awarded an amount equal to the units the school earned in the current fiscal year. Revenue from units earned by members during the previous five years was divided equally among all members. The conference did not supplement travel or other expenses.

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