Even in NCAA Basketball Tournament, Football Schools Take Home the Most Money

Despite being heralded as "more fair," the power football conferences take home the lion's share of revenue from March Madness.

Mar 18, 2014 at 3:19PM

Just because the NCAA Basketball Tournament takes one team from every conference doesn't necessarily mean everyone ends up on equal footing financially. Would you be surprised to learn that the same six conferences that walk away from the football season with the lion's share of the money also take home the majority of March Madness money?

It's true.

Last year, $188.3 million was distributed by the NCAA based on performance in the basketball tournament. Distributions are based on units earned the previous five tournaments, with teams earning one unit for their conference for each game they play in the tournament, with the exception of the title game, which awards no units. Last year, each unit was worth $245,514.

The six conferences who automatically had a team in BCS bowl games – the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC – took home 62.5% of the revenue the NCAA distributed last year based on basketball tournament performance. That left just $70.7 million to be split between the remaining 25 Division I conferences.

The largest distribution last year to a conference outside of those six was to the Atlantic 10, which received $8.1 million. Meanwhile, the smallest amount received by one of the six football conferences with an automatic BCS bid in football was the Pac-12 at $14.5 million. The Big East banked the largest share at $28.7 million.

This isn't simply a one-year fluke either. For 2011-2012, 72% of the distributions went to the six big football conferences. For both 2010-2011 and 2009-2010, 62% of the money went to those conferences.

Do the finances make a difference?

Cinderella might make it to the Big Dance, but she's still going in a homemade dress, and unlike the Disney classic, there's probably no fairy-tale ending. We all love the Wichita States and VCUs and Butlers and Florida Gulf Coasts that make it into the tournament and go deep, but when's the last time one of them won?

A team from outside the six big football conferences hasn't won the title since UNLV did it in 1990. In fact, since UNLV's win in 1990, only four teams in championship games have hailed from conferences outside of the automatic-qualifying football conferences: Butler in 2010 and 2011, Memphis in 2008, and Utah in 1998.

The big-money programs are benefiting in more ways than one. As it turns out, they're more likely to make it into the tournament to begin with. Last year, eight of the 10 top-earning basketball programs made it to the Big Dance. This year, it's nine of the top 10, with only Indiana missing. Spanning out, the percentage of top spends starts to dip; 13 of the top 20 are in the tournament. However, two of the No. 1 seeds are in the Top 20: Arizona (4) and Florida (20).



Men's Basketball Revenue (2012-2013)


University of Louisville



Syracuse University



Duke University



University of Arizona



University of Kentucky



Indiana University-Bloomington



University of North Carolina



University of Wisconsin



Ohio State University



Michigan State University



University of Illinois



North Carolina State University



The University of Texas



University of Kansas



Marquette University



University of Arkansas



University of Michigan



University of Maryland



University of Minnesota



University of Florida


Source: Department of Education

Consider this disparity: Louisville, a No. 4 seed, had the largest revenue in college basketball last year at $42.4 million. They'll play Manhattan in the first round, a school that banked just $1.7 million. It's not impossible for the Jaspers to pull the upset, but odds are good the rich are going to get just a little bit richer when they meet on Thursday.

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