College hoops dollars pale in comparison to the sheer financial largesse of college football -- the most profitable athletic departments in the country tend to also have the most profitable football teams -- but there's no question college basketball is itself a cash cow. Just how fat is the cow? CNN Money crunched the numbers and found that the most profitable program in the country made $16.8 million last year. That program? The Louisville Cardinals.
And the Cardinals weren't just profitable. They were about $4.5 million more profitable than the next program on the list, North Carolina, which netted about $12.3 million in 2009. In third and fourth place are Ohio State and Arizona, which made about $11 million each, followed by Illinois, Wisconsin, Syracuse and Indiana, each ranging from about $8 million to $10 million in descending order.
There are a few interesting inclusions near the top of the list. Arkansas checks in at No. 10, just ahead of Kansas, which is hard to imagine. (Though maybe KU lost some of that money to ticket scalpers along the way. Just joking. Kind of.) Kentucky is all the way down at No. 17, which, given the Wildcats' advantages in attendance and fan interest, is also somewhat peculiar. These might be anomalies, or maybe not, but if they are, CNN might have the explanation:
The comparison between basketball revenues and profits is interesting, but not precise. That's because schools have latitude in their filings with the Department of Education in whether they attribute some expenses and revenues to a specific sport or a more general classification for their entire athletic department. Many schools use that latitude to have revenue and expenses for one sport equal one another rather than show a profit or a loss, a trick of accounting that wouldn't pass muster with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
This is why Duke, your 2009-10 NCAA champion and a hugely successful program by any measure, reported the largest loss of any men's basketball program last year. Duke decided to shift its revenue to a non-sport specific designation, meaning we don't really know how much money Duke's basketball team made in comparison to football or other sports. According to their own accounting, Duke basketball suffered a 17 percent loss last year. Which just sounds wrong.
In other words, congratulations to the Louisville Cardinals for being the most profitable college basketball program in the country. That result is somewhat surprising, but not shocking; the bottom line can't be hurt when you act as a de facto professional franchise for a city with a metropolitan population of about 1.3 million people.
Otherwise, don't get too excited about the list. Somebody -- it helps if you read this next part in former President Bush's cadence -- is cooking the books. Heh.