How Much Money Do Conferences Earn From March Madness?

Last Updated on March 11, 2023

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:

School2011 Units EarnedConference
Belmont1Atlantic Sun
Boston1America East
Bucknell1Patriot League
Butler5Horizon League
Cincinnati2Big East
Connecticut5Big East
Florida State3ACC
George Mason2Colonial
Georgetown1Big East
Illinois2Big Ten
Indiana State1Missouri Valley
Kansas4Big 12
Kansas State2Big 12
Long Island1Northeast
Louisville1Big East
Marquette3Big East
Memphis1Conference USA
Michigan2Big Ten
Michigan State1Big Ten
Missouri1Big 12
Morehead State2Ohio Valley
NC-Asheville1Big South
North Carolina4ACC
Northern Colorado1Big Sky
Notre Dame2Big East
Oakland1Summit League
Ohio State3Big Ten
Old Dominion1Colonial
Penn State1Big Ten
Pittsburgh2Big East
Princeton1Ivy League
Purdue2Big Ten
Richmond3Atlantic 10
San Diego State3Mountain West
St. John’s1Big East
St. Peter’s1MAAC
Syracuse2Big East
Temple2Atlantic 10
Texas2Big 12
Texas A&M1Big 12
UC Santa Barbara1Big West
UNLV1Mountain West
UT San Antonio1Southland
Utah State1WAC
Villanova1Big East
West Virginia2Big East
Wisconsin3Big Ten
Xavier1Atlantic 10

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

Conference2011 Units Earned
Atlantic 106
Atlantic Sun1
America East1
Big 1210
Big East22
Big South1
Big Sky1
Big Ten14
Big West1
Conference USA1
Horizon League5
Ivy League1
Missouri Valley1
Mountain West4
Ohio Valley2
Patriot League1
Summit League1

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:

Conference2011 Earnings
Atlantic 101,437,984.00
Atlantic Sun239,664.00
America East239,664.00
Big 122,396,640.00
Big East5,272,608.00
Big South239,664.00
Big Sky239,664.00
Big Ten3,355,296.00
Big West239,664.00
Conference USA239,664.00
Horizon League1,198,320.00
Ivy League239,664.00
Missouri Valley239,664.00
Mountain West958,656.00
Ohio Valley479,328.00
Patriot League239,664.00
Summit League239,664.00

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

Conference2011Basketball Fund Distribution
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
Conference USA$6,950,256.00
Horizon League$4,553,616.00
Ivy League$1,917,312.00
Missouri Valley$5,032,944.00
Mountain West$5,032,944.00
Ohio Valley$1,917,312.00
Patriot League$1,917,312.00
Summit League$1,437,984.00

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.

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  • Jeff Roy
    March 2, 2012

    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.

  • Danny Kambel
    March 16, 2012

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

  • filth
    June 5, 2012

    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

  • Ken Simmons
    February 18, 2015

    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?