Wichita State fans should have been rooting for Houston’s men’s basketball team down the stretch of its Sweet 16 game against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament late Friday.
Not only for pride in the American Athletic Conference, but also for the dollar signs.
After all, nearly $2 million was on the line in the closing moments of the Houston-Kentucky game.
While brackets consume fans during March Madness, the schools are more worried about earning “units.” Every game played in the NCAA Tournament, up until the Final Four, is equal to one unit. Win a game and your conference earns another unit. Win two games, like Houston did, and earn more units.
This year each unit is worth approximately $1.8 million, according to The Mercury News, paid out by the NCAA with money from its media rights deal with CBS and Turner Sports to broadcast March Madness. The units are pooled together in every conference with the money earned being distributed over the next six years.
The American, for example, splits its units evenly among all 12 of its basketball-playing members.
This season the AAC had four teams — Houston, Cincinnati, Central Florida and Temple — reach the NCAA Tournament. That’s four units automatically. After Houston won twice to reach the Sweet 16 and UCF won once to reach the second round, the American finished the 2019 NCAA Tournament with seven units.
That’s an estimated $12.6 million for the conference over the next six years. For Wichita State, that’s approximately $175,000 for the next six years, about $1.05 million total. And the Shockers didn’t even play a game in the NCAA Tournament this season.
Seeing figures that large certainly makes one re-consider the gravity of Houston letting a 58-55 lead with 1:16 remaining slip away against Kentucky and Aubrey Dawkins’ tip-in that would have given UCF a monumental upset over Duke at the buzzer last weekend.
The seven units earned is the second-most in the American’s six-year history, only behind its inaugural season in 2013-14, when Connecticut made its run to the national championship. Since then, the AAC had never earned more than five until this season.
How does WSU’s run in the National Invitation Tournament stack up against the units won by the conference in the NCAA Tournament?
For starters, WSU doesn’t have to share its earnings from its NIT success. The Shockers are allowed to pocket all of the profit, as they earned the maximum $26,000 for reaching New York City.
Now $26,000 sounds like chump change when compared to the approximately $150,000 a single game in the NCAA Tournament netted WSU. But remember, that $150,000 is doled out over six years.
When broken down on a yearly basis, WSU’s run to the NIT semifinals ($26,000) actually earned the university slightly more money than playing one game in the NCAA Tournament ($25,000) would have.