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How Much Money Do Conferences Earn From March Madness?

There is a mad amount of money to earn from the NCAA through March Madness.

In 2010-11, the NCAA distributed $478 million to conferences and member institutions.  40.5 percent of the revenue distributed by the NCAA was designated to something called the “Basketball Distribution Fund.”    This distribution percentage makes the Basketball Distribution Fund the largest area to which the NCAA directs funds for revenue distribution.

According to the NCAA’s website, “The basketball fund provides for moneys to be distributed to Division I conferences based on their performance in the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship over a six-year rolling period.”  For each March Madness game that a school participates in, except for the Championship game, the school’s respective conference earns a “unit.”  Each unit is worth a designated dollar amount.  According to the NCAA’s website, in 2010-11, each unit earned was worth approximately $239,664.00.  Thus, the further a conference’s teams go into March, the more money that a conference can earn from the NCAA’s revenue distribution system.  The NCAA suggests that conferences divide the payout they receive from the Basketball Distribution Fund equally amongst their member institutions.

As noted above, the Basketball Distribution Fund calls for revenues to be distributed based upon schools’ performances over six-year rolling periods.  However, the tables below demonstrate how accumulating wins during the course of one March Madness run can earn conferences a sizable amount of the revenue distributed by the NCAA.

First, consider how many units were earned by the respective participants of the 2011 Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament:

School 2011 Units Earned Conference
Akron 1 MAC
Arizona 4 Pac-12
Belmont 1 Atlantic Sun
Boston 1 America East
Bucknell 1 Patriot League
Butler 5 Horizon League
Cincinnati 2 Big East
Clemson 1 ACC
Connecticut 5 Big East
Duke 3 ACC
Florida 4 SEC
Florida State 3 ACC
George Mason 2 Colonial
Georgetown 1 Big East
Georgia 1 SEC
Gonzaga 2 WCC
Hampton 1 Mid-Eastern
Illinois 2 Big Ten
Indiana State 1 Missouri Valley
Kansas 4 Big 12
Kansas State 2 Big 12
Kentucky 5 SEC
Long Island 1 Northeast
Louisville 1 Big East
Marquette 3 Big East
Memphis 1 Conference USA
Michigan 2 Big Ten
Michigan State 1 Big Ten
Missouri 1 Big 12
Morehead State 2 Ohio Valley
NC-Asheville 1 Big South
North Carolina 4 ACC
Northern Colorado 1 Big Sky
Notre Dame 2 Big East
Oakland 1 Summit League
Ohio State 3 Big Ten
Old Dominion 1 Colonial
Penn State 1 Big Ten
Pittsburgh 2 Big East
Princeton 1 Ivy League
Purdue 2 Big Ten
Richmond 3 Atlantic 10
San Diego State 3 Mountain West
St. John’s 1 Big East
St. Peter’s 1 MAAC
Syracuse 2 Big East
Temple 2 Atlantic 10
Tennessee 1 SEC
Texas 2 Big 12
Texas A&M 1 Big 12
UCLA 2 Pac-12
UC Santa Barbara 1 Big West
UNLV 1 Mountain West
UT San Antonio 1 Southland
Utah State 1 WAC
Vanderbilt 1 SEC
VCU 5 Colonial
Villanova 1 Big East
Washington 2 Pac-12
West Virginia 2 Big East
Wisconsin 3 Big Ten
Wofford 1 Southern
Xavier 1 Atlantic 10

Next, take a look at how many units respective conferences earned as a result of their member institutions’ performances during the 2011 tournament:

Conference 2011 Units Earned
ACC 11
Atlantic 10 6
Atlantic Sun 1
America East 1
Big 12 10
Big East 22
Big South 1
Big Sky 1
Big Ten 14
Big West 1
Colonial 8
Conference USA 1
Horizon League 5
Ivy League 1
Mid-Eastern 1
Missouri Valley 1
Mountain West 4
Northeast 1
Ohio Valley 2
Pac-12 8
Patriot League 1
SEC 12
Southern 1
Southland 1
Summit League 1

Given the number of units each conference earned in 2011 and the NCAA’s report that in 2010-11, each unit was worth approximately $239,664.00, one can surmise that 1/6 of each conference’s total Basketball Fund Distribution payout was equal to the number of units earned by their teams in 2011 multiplied by the unit payout amount.  A calculation of this is below:

Conference 2011 Earnings
ACC 2,636,304.00
Atlantic 10 1,437,984.00
Atlantic Sun 239,664.00
America East 239,664.00
Big 12 2,396,640.00
Big East 5,272,608.00
Big South 239,664.00
Big Sky 239,664.00
Big Ten 3,355,296.00
Big West 239,664.00
Colonial 1,917,312.00
Conference USA 239,664.00
Horizon League 1,198,320.00
Ivy League 239,664.00
MAAC 239,664.00
MAC 239,664.00
Mid-Eastern 239,664.00
Missouri Valley 239,664.00
Mountain West 958,656.00
Northeast 239,664.00
Ohio Valley 479,328.00
Pac-12 1,917,312.00
Patriot League 239,664.00
SEC 2,875,968.00
Southern 239,664.00
Southland 239,664.00
Summit League 239,664.00
WAC 239,664.00
WCC 1,198,320.00

Finally, the NCAA reported how much was distributed to conferences via the Basketball Distribution Fund in 2010-11:

Conference 2011Basketball Fund Distribution
ACC $18,214,465.00
Atlantic 10 $5,751,936.00
Atlantic Sun $1,437,984.00
America East $1,677,648.00
Big 12 $18,933,457.00
Big East $24,925,057.00
Big South $1,677,648.00
Big Sky $1,677,648.00
Big Ten $18,454,129.00
Big West $1,917,312.00
Colonial $3,355,296.00
Conference USA $6,950,256.00
Horizon League $4,553,616.00
Ivy League $1,917,312.00
MAAC $1,917,312.00
MAC $1,677,648.00
Mid-Eastern $1,437,984.00
Missouri Valley $5,032,944.00
Mountain West $5,032,944.00
Northeast $1,677,648.00
Ohio Valley $1,917,312.00
Pac-12 $16,057,489.00
Patriot League $1,917,312.00
SEC $15,578,161.00
Southern $2,156,976.00
Southland $1,677,648.00
Summit League $1,437,984.00
WAC $2,875,968.00
WCC $4,533,616.00

The big winner in terms of Basketball Distribution Fund distributions is the Big East.  Its known success in basketball has allowed it to accumulate a sizable number of units over the course of the past six years, such that it received the highest payout of all conferences in 2010-11.

While the Big East’s basketball prowess has allowed it to reap the biggest amount of the Basketball Distribution Fund pie, the Horizon League’s payout is an indicator of how the success of one team can boost a conference’s payout.  In 2010-11, only ten conferences (including all six of the BCS AQ conferences) received a higher payout than the Horizon League.  The Horizon League is home to the Butler Bulldogs, who have made it to the championship game the past two years.  As such, over the course of the last two years, Butler alone has earned 10 units for the Horizon League.  Given that most mid-major conferences only earn one unit in a given year, the results that Butler has been able to produce are noteworthy.

So what can one take-away from these numbers?  The big picture here, is that with each round that a team advances into during March Madness, the bigger piece of the NCAA revenue pie it and its conference will share.



  1. Jeff Roy

    March 2, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Thanks, Alicia, for the research. While I digest the numbers, anyone who reads this article needs to remember this essential reality about the NCAA. On average, well over 80% of their total revenue is generated by March Madness. Member fees represent a pittance of their income and football contributes virtually nothing to their coffers. The $478M distributed represents a 34% increase over the amount contributed in 2007, the only year for which I have figures (KPMG 2008 audit). Just FYI for all your readers.

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  3. Danny Kambel

    March 16, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    There’s no report given on the distribution to the Sun Belt Conference.

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  6. filth

    June 5, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    U lied on purpose to push your agenda. The mountain west was lower on your listings than it should have been. Too bad you big east apologists wont give up trying to fool us real fans

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  10. Ken Simmons

    February 18, 2015 at 6:13 am

    One would ask; if these teams receive those amounts of money, why then do NCAA div. I athletes receive the majority of athletic scholarships? Would it not be more beneficial to have the higher earning teams pay their own scholarships out of the coffees for each sport, which in turn would open up a good amount of monetary resources for scholarship elsewhere?

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