If you don’t live the Carolinas you might have a hard time understanding how important collegiate sports are to most sports fans living here but for Chancellors and Athletic Departments the March tradition is as much about the success of your athletic conference as it is about reaching the title game. ESPN reported that six of the Atlantic Coast Conference teams — Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Miami — made the Sweet 16 in 2016 earning the conference at least $39.9 million. Although the ACC didn’t have its best run in the March Madness tournament, but UNC-Chapel Hill’s trip to the Final Four® in Phoenix, combined with two stellar tournaments in 2015 and 2016, will yield the conference at three-year total of more than $100 million.
While fans enjoy filling out brackets and gathering around TVs to watch their favorite team, for the schools, the tournament is all about money. Each game played in the 2017 NCAA Men’s Div I tournament is worth $264,859. That money will be paid out over the next six years (2018-23) putting this year’s six-year unit payout at more than $1.7 million, or $30.6 million for the ACC’s 18 units this year, a record high among all college conferences. The ACC, like many conferences, splits the revenue equally; over the past three years, ACC teams have earned 64 units from the NCAA’s basketball fund, the pool established to hold and payout the money the NCAA makes on its television deal to reward conferences for advancing in the tournament.
Each game played, with the exception of the title game, is worth one unit. In 2015 the ACC became the first conference to hit the $30 million mark for one tournament, pulling in a six-year payout cycle of nearly $33 million. Last year the the ACC earned 25 units, besting the conference record set by the Big East in 2009 (24), which was the most since the NCAA started the basketball distribution fund in 1991. The revenue comes from the NCAA’s broadcast deal for the tournament with Turner and CBS. The deal averages $771 million a year until 2024 and then $1.1 billion a year through 2032.