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Pac-12’s NCAA Tournament success comes with historic economic benefits

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Oral Roberts v Florida Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

USC’s dominant win over Kansas Monday night capped off the Pac-12’s most impressive opening weekend to the NCAA Tournament since the conference expanded to a dozen teams.

The Trojans emphatically took down one of college basketball’s blue bloods and in the process set up an all-conference Sweet 16 affair with Oregon, the winner guaranteed to make the Elite Eight of the West region.

Elsewhere in the bracket, Oregon State will face Loyola Chicago and UCLA will play Alabama, each with an Elite Eight berth on the line. Colorado, the Pac-12’s fifth participant, was eliminated by Florida State in the round of 32.

It’s the kind of March run that can change a conference’s perception for years. Even more significantly, it’s the kind of run that will bolster the coffers of every Pac-12 athletic department.

Here’s a brief breakdown of how March Madness revenue sharing works:

In the NCAA Tournament, units are awarded to conferences by way of one automatic qualifier, at-large berths and round advancements up until the national title game. Another way to look at it is a conference earns a unit for each game it plays in through the Final Four semifinal.

Each unit is paid out annually over six years. Units from this tournament will be worth approximately $300,000 a year for a total of $1.8 million by 2027.

So far, the Pac-12 has accumulated 15 units through two rounds. The league is guaranteed a 16th by virtue of clinching an Elite Eight team. A 17th unit would tie the conference record set in 2001, when the then-Pac-10 saw Arizona advance to the national championship game, USC and Stanford reach the Elite Eight and UCLA make the Sweet 16.

Even if the league doesn’t win another game outside of USC-Oregon, the 2021 NCAA Tournament will have netted the Conference of Champions close to $29 million. Split up among 12 institutions, that’s around $2.4 million per department.

At $400,000 annually, that’s enough to cover softball coach Mike Candrea’s full salary. Or fund the entire volleyball staff. Or pay down some of Arizona’s multi-million dollar deficit.

As athletic departments like Arizona’s continue to struggle from economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, any additional sources of revenue are highly sought after.

The Pac-12’s prolific opening weekend wasn’t just an exceptional display of west coast basketball. It was a one-in-a-decade economic event that will benefit the conference’s schools for years to come.