The University of Maine men’s basketball program has never qualified for the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament.
But the university’s athletic department does benefit financially from the NCAA’s biggest source of revenue each year, though not so much in the most publicized ways.
Those are the NCAA’s Division I Basketball Performance Fund and the Division I Equal Conference Fund, which last year distributed a combined $216.7 million to the 32 Division I basketball-playing conferences and independent schools based on qualification and performance at the NCAA tournament.
The Equal Conference Fund distributes revenues equally among those conferences that meet athletic and academic standards to compete in the men’s basketball tournament.
The Basketball Performance Fund is distributed to conferences and independent schools based on their NCAA tournament performance — that is, the number of wins — over a six-year rolling period.
Distributions for both funds are made in units — with one unit allocated to each conference that qualifies for the Division I men’s basketball tournament and additional units paid for each tournament victory by a team leading up to the Final Four.
America East, which includes UMaine, will receive seven units from the NCAA after the 2019 tourney, six for participating in the event from 2014 through this year and an additional unit for 16th-seeded Maryland, Baltimore County’s historic upset of No. 1 Virginia in the 2018 tourney.
Each of those units in 2019 is worth $282,100, for a seven-unit total for America East of $1,974,700.
America East is one of numerous smaller Division I leagues that share that revenue by funding the conference office or through conference-wide initiatives. Those efforts may include supporting non-revenue-producing sports and enhancing regional and national exposure for the league and its member schools and teams.
“Funds from the unit earned from our [automatic qualifier] participant[s] are retained by the conference office as an element of our conference budget,” America East commissioner Amy Huchthausen said in an email.
The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, benefited directly from its 2018 tournament victory over Virginia, she added.
“Any additional unit(s) earned by an institution who advances in the tournament, such as UMBC last year, is split with the earning institution in the first year of the distribution and in subsequent years the entire additional unit(s) is retained by the conference office for various initiatives,” Huchthausen said.
Those funds that stem directly from participation in the NCAA tournament are not where the distributions end. Of approximately $1.05 billion in total revenues reported by the NCAA in 2017, for example, some $560 million was sent back to Division I conferences and schools, with additional funds allocated to Division II and Division III efforts.
“The majority of the money that comes into the NCAA is re-distributed right back to the schools in a lot of different ways. I think that’s something the public misses fairly frequently, that the NCAA puts the money back into their programs, and primarily the Division I programs,” UMaine athletics director Ken Ralph said.
“The basketball tournament performance distribution is separate.”
Among the monies distributed to Division I conferences and schools is the Student Assistance Fund, which helps support student-athletes for essential needs that arise during their time in college.
Ralph said UMaine received approximately $240,000 from the Student Assistance Fund this year.
“For example, we had a student who had a family member pass away and they couldn’t afford the plane ticket home for the funeral and we could use that fund to pay for a plane ticket for them to go home,” he said. “It’s pretty helpful to a lot of kids who are from limited means.
“There are rules on how you can spend it. We get audited on it every year by the NCAA, but it’s a good program.’’
Ralph said distributions from the NCAA separate from performance in the men’s basketball tournament typically are based in part on the number of sports a university offers as well as how many athletic scholarships it provides.
“We’re fairly modest in that regard,” said Ralph, who oversees an athletics program that sponsors seven varsity sports for men and eight for women. “We do better than some [schools] because we do offer 63 scholarships in football, so from a scholarship perspective — or what they call equivalencies in NCAA-speak — we’re probably at least at the midpoint in Division I.
“We’re slightly below the average in the number of sports we offer, but it does help us. It would be very difficult if we were to lose those dollars.”
Other NCAA funds that distribute revenues to Division I conferences and schools include:
— Sport Sponsorship and Scholarship Funds: Used to help fund NCAA sports and provide scholarships for college athletes, particularly in non-revenue sports.
— Division I Championships: Includes support for team travel, food and lodging for athletes competing in championship events.
— Student-Athlete Services and Championship Support: Includes funding for catastrophic injury insurance, drug testing and student-athlete leadership programs.
— Academic Enhancement Fund: Distributed to Division I schools to aid academic programs and services.
— Division I Conference Grants: Used for programs that enhance officiating, compliance, minority opportunities and more.