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BYU's past NCAA success still makes millions for Mountain West Conference

Published: Thursday, April 4 2013 9:55 a.m. MDT

Jimmer Fredette celebrates the win in the tunnel off court as BYU defeated Gonzaga 89-67 Saturday, March 19, 2011 in the third round of the NCAA Tournament at the Pepsi Center in Denver Colorado. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

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Every fan of college basketball wants to see his-or-her team in the postseason.

Right now the country is abuzz over the NCAA basketball tournament while BYU fans also have a keen interest in the National Invitational Tournament.

Buzz aside, appearances in the NCAA tourney and even the NIT can also be a financial windfall for conferences and schools. And that’s important, as those postseason appearances cost money as teams and school officials have to fly to game destinations, book large blocks of hotel rooms and feed that caravan along the way.

So how, exactly, do schools get paid for playing postseason basketball games?

And how does BYU’s appearance in the NIT benefit it compared to its previous six NCAA bids?

BYU still earning big bucks for the Mountain West

Fans in Provo complained for years that BYU was carrying schools like Wyoming, Colorado State and New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference by providing a large portion of the conference’s TV money and postseason revenues.

But, what fans may not know is, that continues today. Only now, BYU doesn’t see a dime of the money it still earns for the MWC.

How is that possible, you ask?

The NCAA pays a revenue-share for participation in the Big Dance in the form of “units.” Each game a team plays generates a unit of credit for six years. So a team that plays in a one-and-done tourney earns one credit for six years. Each unit has a set monetary value. This year a unit is worth $242,204.

So, a single NCAA Tourney game played in 2013 pays $242,204 for six years, or more than $1.5 million.

But that money doesn’t go to the teams that played the game. Instead, it goes to the conference. The conference then divides the money among its teams, usually equally. And those units stay with the conference, even when a team leaves, as BYU did with the MWC in 2011.

The Cougars played in the NCAA tournament in the last five years they were in the Mountain West, a single game each in the 2007-2009 tourneys, two games in 2010 and three in 2011.

And you can see the money starting to add up.

When BYU left the conference in 2011, the units the Cougars had earned — but had yet to be completely cashed out over their six-year lifespan — stayed with the MWC:

— 1 unit from 2007 worth about $191,000

— 2 units from 2008 worth about $206,000 each or $412,000 total.

— 3 units from 2009 worth about $220,000 each or $660,000 total

— 8 units from 2010 worth about $240,000 each or $1.92 million

— 15 units from 2011 worth about $242,000 each or $3.32 million

All told, BYU has, or will eventually, earn the Mountain West Conference more than $6.81 million dollars in NCAA Tournament revenue that it will never be share in.

This is not, per se, an issue unique to the Mountain West Conference. With the recent changes in conference affiliation in the Southeastern Conference, the Big 12, the Big East and others, it's very likely that this same arrangement is present with a number of schools across the Division-1 landscape.

The BYU Athletics Department declined to respond or comment to Deseret News contributors.

NIT money

BYU was able to recoup quickly some of its lost tournament revenue by earning an NCAA tournament unit for the West Coast Conference last March, along with St. Mary’s and Gonzaga.

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