- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
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Clutch performances by Butler guards Brandon Miller and Darnell Archey lifted the No. 12-seeded Bulldogs to victories over Mississippi State and Louisville, and into the Sweet Sixteen.
But despite five trips to the NCAA men's tournament over the past seven years, Butler won't be receiving a significant financial windfall from its team's postseason success.
The Horizon League, a collection of mid-major colleges that stretch from the Ohio Valley to Wisconsin's dairyland, pays schools that reach the NCAA Tournament about 13 percent of the money it earns in the postseason, plus a stipend of $40,000 per tournament game to cover expenses, conference commissioner Jon LeCrone said.
Until 1991, individual schools received direct payments from their wins in the NCAA Tournament. But after CBS signed a seven-year deal worth $1 billion, NCAA officials advocated a revenue distribution plan in which conferences are paid in proportion to their postseason success over a six-year period.
"The NCAA wanted to make it more equitable, so that a school like Butler, (which) has a successful run, would not only earn money for the conference in the year after their success, but over a six-year period," said Keith Martin, the NCAA's managing director of finance and operations.
A conference is awarded a unit for each game its schools play in the NCAA Tournament, save for the championship game. Each April, the conference receives money for the cumulative units it earned in the previous six years. With 11 units earned over the past six years worth $130,697 each, the Horizon League will collect more than $1.4 million this year, a fraction of the $6 million to $9 million major conferences like the ACC, Big East, Big Ten and SEC earn each year.
"Getting $1.4 million might not sound like a lot of money," LeCrone said, "but for a league like ours, it's very valuable."
Roughly 70 percent of the Horizon League's operating budget comes from the revenue earned by its teams in the NCAA Tournament. So far, there has been just enough left over to rebate each school's annual conference membership dues.
"It's not like we're going to declare a bank holiday and start dividing up the money," Butler athletics director John Parry said.
Unlike the major conferences, the Horizon League doesn't receive television rights fees and instead pays networks to show its games. The conference syndicates between 12 and 24 games a year at a cost of at least $20,000 per game, LeCrone said.
Thanks to the NCAA Tournament's new 11-year, $6 billion television contract, the value of each unit will continue to rise in the years to come. That Butler earned an at-large berth to the tournament this year meant an extra $140,000 next year when the units are increased, and $1 million over the next six years.
With Butler reaching the Sweet Sixteen and Wisconsin-Milwaukee's first-round appearance, the Horizon league is guaranteed an additional $3 million over the six-year period from 2004 through 2009. That's significant given that conference members' athletic budget average $6 million annually.
In May, representatives from the Horizon League's member schools will decide how to divide any surplus.
"We always think about more marketing and promoting," LeCrone said. "We're Davids with our rocks and slingshots going up against Goliaths. Thanks to the success of a Butler, we can provide our schools with more programs at less cost and hopefully return some of the revenue back to them."
Parry said the school is expecting to capitalize on Butler's Cinderella trip.
"We think, just by looking at schools that have previously had success like Valparaiso and Gonzaga, that it will translate into positive results in enrollment, in ticket sales and sponsorship dollars," Parry said. "We've obviously gotten exposure you can't buy."
In fact, if the school were to buy all the media mentions they've received since last Sunday's selection show, it would cost about $2.8 million, said Eric Wright of Joyce Julius & Associates, a sponsorship evaluation firm.
"If the NCAA didn't give the conferences any money, it would still be worth it to us," Parry said. "Because it's not about the dollars, it's about the chance of exposure."
Darren Rovell covers sports business for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.