To casual fans, a No. 16 seed is a No. 16 seed no matter how you slice it.

But to individual programs involved and the conferences that house them, there's a major difference between a No. 16 seed that gets put in the NCAA tournament's main draw and one sent to Dayton for the First Four.

That difference is potentially worth $1.5 million.

That's how much an NCAA tournament unit is worth (over the course of six years), and because First Four games are considered a tournament round, the winners of those matchups earn a unit.

"We joke about it in the conference offices, but if you're going to have a 16 seed, let's go to Dayton," Colonial Athletic Association commissioner Tom Yeager said. "Play someone that's relatively similar to you with the opportunity to pick up another basketball unit, and then you walk into the lion's den with the No. 1 seed.

"Last year, James Madison was able to win and then line up with Indiana. I'd rather take that route than line up with Indiana or another No. 1 seed right out of the box. That'd be my preference. It's a winnable game, and the unit is worth, over six years, about $1.5 million dollars."

Each team gets a unit for making the tournament, and one for each subsequent win. Because a No. 16 seed has never upset a No. 1 seed, the earnings potential for the 16s that go into the main draw are essentially capped at one unit.

The 16s in Dayton this week – Albany, Mount St. Mary's, Cal Poly and Texas Southern – each have an opportunity to double their earnings.

"When the whole concept of the play-in games first came up, as a conference commissioner I wasn't very excited about the prospect of having a team playing in those games," says longtime Big West commissioner Dennis Farrell, who expects to be in Dayton to cheer on Cal Poly. "But in all honesty, when they put the financial reward on winning that game, it certainly changed my viewpoint about it. If you're going to be a 16 seed, you might as well have a chance to pick up a victory in the tournament. … It does make it appealing a little bit. You hope that your team goes in there and plays up to its standards."

Yeager said he remembers sitting in commissioner meetings where many shared the same view as Farrell; nobody liked the idea of play-in games, especially back when there was just one.

"There was not an extra unit attached to winning it," Yeager said. "I think people did look at it as a negative deal and complained about it. That's not the case anymore."