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Much Ado About Nothing (College Football And Basketball Profits)

The Business of College Sports recently posted an article showing which college football and basketball programs produce the largest profits. Boston College football was ranked 120 with an 2009-10 profit of $1,211,197. Hoops wasn't too far behind on the list, ranked 129th after taking in $8,026,369 and expensing $8,026,369 for a net zero profit.

This post causes haters to say silly things like "Villanova basketball is more profitable than BC football & basketball combined." Rebuttal: how much profit did your I-AA football team make? Man, that PPL Park expansion sure is going to be costly ...

But back to the original article which attempts to rank college football and basketball profits in terms of profits. I have to ask who cares? It's completely the wrong metric to look at when comparing the health of college programs for the simple fact that athletic departments aren't set up to turn a profit. They are considered part of the university and are treated as non-profit institutions. It's great that Texas football generates over $68 million in revenue, but that revenue gets pumped right back into the school and UT's other non-revenue sports and more often than not nets out.

What would be much more interesting is to see college football and basketball revenues as a percentage of an athletic departments' entire expenses necessary to support all of its varsity sports. E.g. is Florida State football really only the 99th most profitable revenue sports in college sports, while UNC football is ranked 48 spots higher? Not exactly. Florida State has to use its $18,958,861 in football revenue to fund its 16 other varsity sports programs. Meanwhile, North Carolina has to fund 11 more varsity sports than FSU on its $22,018,738 in football revenue and $20,551,168 in hoops revenue.

If you look at the revenue numbers in isolation, they are mildly interesting and show just how much cash some of these major conference programs are reeling in. But per-program profits in isolation don't tell you much since you aren't factoring in the size of the individual athletics departments, total expenses or other revenue streams.