How much money is the NCAA Tournament worth to the Big East?


(Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches)

More than probably most, I have been a huge backer of all Big East teams come NCAA Tourney time, mostly for perception and league coverage reasons. But there is a bigger, more tangible reason to root for Big East foes come March. Money.

The NCAA signed a $10.8 billion contract extension with CBS and Turner for broadcast rights of the NCAA Tournament through 2032, bringing up the per year average of the contract to $1.1 billion per season. That’s a ton of money and basically funds the entire NCAA apparatus. But seeing as one particular sport is generating all of that revenue, that sport gets a fairly large piece of the pie. As of 2013, about 40% of the NCAA’s revenue got kicked into something called the basketball fund.

The basketball fund then distributes its bounty to the individual conferences based on the performance of conference teams in the NCAA Tournament. So every time a Big East team makes it to an NCAA Tournament game, it secures a Tournament Share for the conference as a whole. The process is pretty complex and took the better part of this morning to decipher, but here’s my shot and simplifying it, using cookies instead of shares.    

Every NCAA game appearance is worth 1 cookie for the conference, regardless of the result, except for the Championship game, which is a cookie-less appearance for some reason. (For instance, Villanova got the conference 5 cookies last season, even though it appeared in 6 Tourney games). At the end of the year all of the individual team cookies get collected into a Big East cookie jar. However, nothing happens with those cookies right away, they get put on the top shelf for a year.

Instead, the NCAA takes the cookie jars from the previous 6 seasons and pays the conferences a set amount for all of the cookies in those 6 cookie jars. Below is the screenshot of the example the NCAA provides.Capture

In our cookie terms, the Big East Conference collected 117 cookies from 2007 to 2012. In April of 2013, the NCAA took those jars and paid $245,514 per cookie, for a total of $28.7 million. The Big East then took that money and evenly distributed it to the 15 members, for a payout of  $1.9 Million per school. Every year, the process is repeated with the amount each cookie is worth increasing by about 1.9%.

That’s complex, but fairly straightforward. What we are about to attempt is a lot murkier, as conference realignment has ravaged the natural order of things and meant we don’t truly know who got to keep what. For example, I know the Catholic 7 teams all got to take their previous tournament cookies with them, but did not bring cookies from former Big East teams like Syracuse and Notre Dame, as those stayed with the AAC. I am also fairly sure that Butler, Xavier and Creighton  did not get to pack the cookies in their move to the Big East from the A-10 and MVC. I have no idea if all 10 members got to share in the cookies fully right away, but for the sake of clarity, we will assume X, CU and BU did in fact begin receiving tournament shares from Year 1 despite not gathering any cookies for the Big East. 

Here are the number of cookies the Big East has collected per year, with X, CU, BU only counting starting in 2014.

2008: 7
2009: 7
2010: 4
2011: 6
2012: 5
2013: 6
2014: 6
2015: 11
2016: 12
2017: 13
If you want a breakdown of which teams were responsible for those cookies,
I’ve created a Google Sheet going back to 2008

If we take all those at face value, the payment breakdowns the Big East teams have received are below.  

  2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Share Value  $            250,106  $            255,379  $            260,525  $              265,700  $        270,748
6 year Shares 35 34 38 46 53
Payout  $        8,753,710  $        8,682,886  $        9,899,950  $        12,222,200  $  14,349,660
Per Team   $            875,371  $            868,289  $            989,995  $          1,222,220  $    1,434,966

Having Big East teams do well isn’t just a boon for one year, it is gift that keeps on giving for 6 years. 

And unlike the other Power 6 conferences, the Big East has no giant swaths of football and TV money that compose most of the athletic revenue. Giving $1.4 million in one year to a team like UCLA (that thrives in basketball) is nothing compared to what their program takes in from everywhere else (TV, “Playoff” and Bowl Payments). Their 2014-’15 athletic department revenue was $96,912,767, according to USA Today. The money they receive from the PAC-12 for the basketball fund won’t be more than 1% of the total revenue.

Now take a school like Seton Hall. In 2015, they reported to the U.S. Department of Education that total athletic department revenue was about $22.9 million. That means the $868k they received that season from the Big East NCAA pot composed nearly 4% of their athletic revenue. It also makes up 14% of their total basketball revenue That’s a staggering number, and one that is similar across the board for the Big East.

Yes, not having 80+ scholarships for football means expenses are much lower for non-football schools. And yes, the FOX TV contract basically doubled what the Catholic 7 were receiving from the old Big East TV contract. But even taking all that into account, NCAA cookie payments make up anywhere from 4 to 18% of basketball revenue for the individual Big East schools. (Ironically enough, Marquette’s basketball revenue is the one least impacted by Tournament payouts, as they only account for 4.7% of the 2015 basketball revenue.)

It is important to know that accounting practices for athletic departments are not standardized and as such should be taken with a huge grain of salt. For example, Butler may classify the FOX TV money as general revenue, while Marquette may place it under basketball revenue. Technically both are correct, it is just not the same across the board. Still, the numbers themselves have value. 

With two solid cookie accumulations back to back, the Big East has guaranteed it will nearly double the individual school payments in 2018 compared to 2014 or 2015. The Nova championship will keep paying dividends until 2022, so anything added on this year and the next just keeps sweetening the pot.   

Having teams like Xavier make the Elite 8 isn’t just boosting the conference’s reputation, it is ensuring the coffers stay plentiful going forward. When you are a basketball first conference, NCAA Tournament success is vital to the financial stability of the individual members.      

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  1. Weekly Roundup (03/31/2017) - March 31, 2017

    […] blog Paint Touches analyzed how much NCAA Tournament revenue the Big East is looking at after placing seven of it&#8217…. Their rough numbers also showed each school’s basketball revenue in one handy […]

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