Duke fans aren’t going to want to hear this, but they should be happy that UNC made it to the Final Four.
That’s because thanks to the way the NCAA distributes tournament money, every team within a particular conference benefits financially when any of its fellow members play a March Madness game.
The system works by awarding a “basketball unit” to each conference for every game played in the tournament. The units pay out incrementally over the next six years, so a unit will pay $264,859 this year, with increases scheduled for the subsequent five years. All told, that means a single tournament game is worth approximately $1.7 million to the conference of the team playing in it.
The Atlantic Coast Conference, home to UNC and Duke, will take in an extra $8.5 million just based on the four games UNC has played thus far, plus its upcoming Final Four matchup. All that money will then be split among each ACC team, regardless of whether or not they even participated in the tournament.
With 15 teams in the conference, each school stands to receive about $567,000 over the next six years thanks to the Tar Heels. And while a payout of that size may not mean that much to behemoths like UNC or Duke, other ACC schools with small basketball programs, like North Carolina State and Clemson, stand to make out well.
Those figures don’t even take into account all the other ACC teams that have participated in this year’s tournament. The NCAA selected nine teams from the conference to play. Several were very highly seeded, which meant that the ACC could have been in line for a huge windfall if a bunch of them did well. Unfortunately for the conference, Duke and all the other ACC teams except UNC were eliminated in the first two rounds, so millions of dollars were left on the table thanks to their disappointing performances.
Still, based on the combined record of five wins and eight losses of the ACC teams aside from UNC, the conference picked up an additional $22.1 million. That figure seems like a lot, but it pales in comparison to last year, when the ACC sent several teams deep into the tournament, picking up 24 basketball units and roughly $40.8 million in the process.
The only exception to the NCAA’s March Madness money distribution is the championship game, which doesn’t count toward accruing a unit. So since another ACC victory doesn’t provide a windfall for the conference, Duke fans can go back to rooting for anyone but UNC.