Follow the money to the top seeds

The NCAA bracket leaders haul in a lot more than their rivals. It does make a difference.

Posted: March 22, 2007

When the NCAA men's basketball tournament resumes tonight, the No. 1 seeds in each region will enjoy one big advantage that the selection committee never took into account:

Money.

North Carolina, Ohio State, Kansas and, to a lesser degree, Florida all have made millions more from basketball than their rivals in this weekend's regionals.

According to figures from the 2005-06 season, the most recent filed with the U.S. Department of Education, the tournament's four top seeds, all of whom are still alive, turned a combined profit of $27.4 million.

By comparison, the total profit for the 12 other teams vying for spots in the Final Four in Atlanta was $15.7 million.

Experts insist that schools profiting from basketball have a considerable advantage over those institutions that are either in the red or barely breaking even. They can build the kind of posh facilities that attract top players, spend more on recruiting, and lure high-profile coaches.

North Carolina, No. 1 in the East Regional, reported basketball earnings of $17.2 million and a profit of $12.6 million that year. Ohio State, No. 1 in the South, took in $12 million and a profit of $7.6 million. Kansas, No. 1 in the West, earned $11.2 million and a profit of $6.2 million.

The fourth top seed, Florida in the Midwest, reported relatively low revenue of $6.8 million in its national championship season. That was good for a $1 million profit. But don't feel sorry for Gators athletics.

Florida's football team was $32.3 million in the black in 2005-06. And having won the national title this year, the 2006-07 football Gators almost certainly will surpass that total by a healthy margin.

Of the four Midwest teams remaining, Florida made $1.7 million more than UNLV ($5.1 million), $2.6 million more than Oregon ($4.2 million), and $5.6 million more than Butler ($1.2 million).

In the other three regions, the earnings disparity was even more pronounced.

Ohio State made nearly twice as much as each of its three South rivals - Texas A&M ($6 million), Tennessee ($6.8 million), and Memphis ($4.6 million).

Kansas had a big revenue advantage over the other three programs in the West - UCLA ($8.5 million), Pitt ($7.6 million), and Southern Illinois ($1.1 million).

But nowhere was that divide wider than with North Carolina in the East. Vanderbilt's total revenue of $6.2 million was $11 million less than the Tar Heels'. Georgetown made $6.1 million, and Southern Cal, where football is undisputed king, $2.4 million.

"I think the reason for the disparity in our revenue is probably the size of our arena," said Mike Perkins, the North Carolina athletic department's director of business operations. "We can seat a lot of people, and ticket revenue is a big chunk of that figure."

The Tar Heels play in the Dean Smith Center. One of the nation's largest on-campus facilities, it seats 21,750.

The Heels typically average better than 20,000 fans per game. Multiply that by 15-plus home games a year and a ticket price that averages better than $40, and that's a lot of Carolina green.

North Carolina also can demand contributions - which serve as seat premiums - to its athletic program from those who seek to buy the much-sought-after seats in the handsome arena.

At a school like Southern Illinois, many of its 9,700 seats are old and bleacher-type, not the kind for which alums are going to pony up several thousand dollars for the right to buy them.

There are other financial advantages that teams like UNC have over their less successful rivals. The Tar Heels' national following provides them considerable merchandising income. The Atlantic Coast Conference, a TV pioneer, has a lucrative television contract. And as a perennial tournament participant, Carolina regularly rakes in its share from the billions CBS has paid to broadcast the NCAA tournament.

The system "is kind of out of whack," said Mario Moccia, the athletic director at Southern Illinois, which spent the same amount ($1.1 million) as it brought in in 2005-06. "But that's just the way it is."

Although the financial reporting standards used in completing the forms, which are mandated annually by the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act, vary widely from school to school, the EADA figures nonetheless provide the best glimpse into the money-saturated atmosphere surrounding collegiate sports.

The 2005-06 reports also pointed out how the cost of running a big-time college basketball program continues to increase.

In 2004, Duke spent more on basketball than anyone in that year's Sweet 16 - $4.7 million. This year there are five Sweet 16 schools who in 2005-06 reported higher expenses than that - Florida ($5.8 million), Vanderbilt ($5.4 million), UCLA ($5.1 million), Kansas ($5.0 million), and Georgetown ($4.9 million).

North Carolina spent $4.6 million.

At the other end of the spending spectrum are Southern Illinois and Butler, which spent $1.2 million. Those two mid-major representatives play in the Missouri Valley and Horizon Conferences, respectively.

Despite the financial disparity, there is at least one reason for mid-major optimism at this year's regionals.

In three of the four seasons from 2000 through 2003, 14 of the Sweet 16 teams were Bowl Championship Series-affiliated schools - those from the six largest football conferences plus Notre Dame.

But that dominance has been diminished in three of the last four years - to 12 in 2004, 11 in 2006, and 12 this year (and one of those 12 is Georgetown, which despite its Big East affiliation does not play Division I-A football).

Do not, however, look for further reductions in those numbers.

"If you look at the other three teams in the West with us - Kansas, Pitt and UCLA - all of them are making a healthy profit from football," said Moccia. "We play in Division I-AA, where negative cash flows are the norm.

"It makes things more difficult for us, that's for sure."


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.

 

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