Every year, the NCAA distributes hundreds of millions of dollars to Division I conferences based on which teams made the tournament and how far they advanced.

Expand chart
Data: AP; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

How it works: Conferences are paid out based on total number of "units," which is what the NCAA calls its tally of wins, automatic qualifiers and at-large bids.

  • Each distribution year is assigned a value for a single "unit," which is then applied to units earned by conferences over the previous six tournaments. (For instance, the $216 million paid out last year amounted to $273,500 per unit for tournament results from 2012–2017.)
  • Payments are made each April to conferences, who then decide how to split the earnings. Most share the money equally among members, but in some leagues, the schools that earned the units get bonuses.
  • The schools take that money and mostly re-invest it in athletics (scholarships, coaching salaries, facilities, etc).

By the numbers: Loyola Chicago's Final Four last year will be worth at least $8.5 million to the Missouri Valley Conference over the next six years. Some other recent windfalls:

  • George Mason, 2006: Earned five units worth $6.4 million for the Colonial Athletic Association (moved to Atlantic 10 Conference in 2012).
  • Butler, 2010-11: Earned 10 units over two years worth $15.1 million for the Horizon League (moved to Big East in 2013).
  • Wichita State, 2013: Earned five units worth $7.9 million for the Missouri Valley Conference (moved to American Athletic Conference in 2018).

The big picture: From 1997-2018, the Big Ten has been paid the most ($340.4 million), followed by the ACC ($316.3 million) and the Big 12 ($307.3 million).

  • Meanwhile, the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) has earned just $25 million, "nearly the minimum it can earn given that all leagues make money from their teams that qualify automatically," per AP.

The bottom line: College basketball's power conferences send multiple teams to the tournament annually, so money comes in fairly consistently.

  • But for smaller leagues that typically only get one automatic bid, getting a second at-large bid — or, better yet, seeing one of their schools go on a deep tourney run — is like winning the lottery.

Explore the data.

Go deeper

Coronavirus surge punctures oil's recovery

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The growth of coronavirus cases is "casting a shadow" over oil's recovery despite the partial demand revival and supply cuts that have considerably tightened the market in recent months, the International Energy Agency said Friday.

Why it matters: IEA's monthly report confirms what analysts have seen coming for a long time: Failure to contain the virus is a huge threat to the market rebound that has seen prices grow, but remain at a perilous level for many companies.

2 hours ago - Sports

Big Ten's conference-only move could spur a regionalized college sports season

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Big Ten announced Thursday that it will move all fall sports to a conference-only schedule.

Why it matters: This will have a snowball effect on the rest of the country, and could force all Power 5 conferences to follow suit, resulting in a regionalized fall sports season.

The second jobs apocalypse

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

This week, United Airlines warned 36,000 U.S. employees their jobs were at risk, Walgreens cut more than 4,000 jobs, Wells Fargo announced it was preparing thousands of terminations this year, and Levi's axed 700 jobs due to falling sales.

Why it matters: We have entered round two of the jobs apocalypse. Those announcements followed similar ones from the Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and Choice hotels, which all have announced thousands of job cuts, and the bankruptcies of more major U.S. companies like 24 Hour Fitness, Brooks Brothers and Chuck E. Cheese in recent days.