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Pac-12 basketball: UCLA and USC won't take their NCAA Tournament units to the Big Ten

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Time for Pac-12 fans to embrace the enemy within.

UCLA and USC are departing for the Big Ten in the summer of 2024, but the March Madness units they collect in the NCAA's complicated revenue distribution formula will remain bound to the Pac-12 for the full payout cycle.

The schools are leaving; the units are staying.

USC was eliminated Friday by Michigan State, while the Bruins have advanced to the second round and a date with Northwestern on Saturday.

Their success will impact Pac-12 budgets for years to come.

We'll get to the details momentarily, but suffice it to say that every tournament game played by the L.A. schools this March and next March will be worth tens of thousands of dollars to each continuing member starting in the spring of 2025.

Without getting too deep into the complexities of the NCAA's distribution formula, know this:

— Each game played is worth one unit through the national semifinals — a maximum of five per team per year.

— Each unit has a dollar value attached.

— The units are carried forward for six years and paid out to the conferences in ever-increasing amounts each spring. (The increase is roughly 3 percent per year).

The units USC and UCLA earn in the 2023-24 tournaments will not follow them to the Big Ten. They will stay with the Pac-12, with the dollars distributed evenly among the remaining 10 schools.

Let's say UCLA reaches the Sweet 16 this year. That's three games played and three units earned. Next year, those units will be worth about $360,000 each, or $1.1 million in total.

That money will be split 12 ways ($30,000 per unit) because the Bruins and Trojans are members of the conference in the 2024 fiscal year.

But starting with the spring of 2025 — and continuing for the remaining five years of the payout cycle — UCLA's units will be split 10 ways among the remaining Pac-12 schools. And they will increase in value each year.

(Revenue distributions for any new members would be negotiated.)

With the 3% escalator, we'll estimate the average unit value over the final five years of the payout cycle at $390,000.

Divide that by 10, and it's $39,000 per school per year for five years — or almost $200,000.

And that's for a single unit earned by the Bruins and Trojans this month.

Games played in the NCAAs next March would work the same way, except with the payout cycle starting in the spring of 2025, the L.A. schools would not reap any of the cash they generated.

So if you're wondering whether to root for the L.A. schools, keep in mind the end game: Their success in the NCAAs could be worth $1 million or more to your school over time.

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Jon Wilner
Jon Wilner's Pac-12 Hotline is brought to through a partnership with the Bay Area News Group.

Jon Wilner has been covering college sports for decades and is an AP Top 25 football and basketball voter as well as a Heisman Trophy voter. He was named Beat Writer of the Year in 2013 by the Football Writers Association of America for his coverage of the Pac-12, won first place for feature writing in 2016 in the Associated Press Sports Editors writing contest and is a five-time APSE honoree. You can follow him on Twitter @WilnerHotline or send an email at

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