The University of Connecticut's Lady Huskies basketball team capped off an undefeated season last night by winning their fourth straight national title. However, unlike Villanova University, which won the men's championship, UConn's success on the court hasn't yielded similar financial dividends.
Data that UConn submitted to the U.S. Department of Education shows that for the 2014-2015 academic year, the school incurred $6.7 million in expenses for its women's basketball team while earning $4 million in revenue. For the same period, UConn's men's basketball team, which has won the national title four times since 1999, cost UConn $8.6 million while it earned $9.6 million in revenue. Expenses for the school's lower-profile football team were $14.2 million, which overshadowed its $8.3 million in revenue.
At least the Lady Huskies basketball team's financial performance was relatively impressive, according to sports economist Victor Matheson a sports economist at the College of the Holy Cross, who added that you would think "if anybody could make money, it would be UConn."
An NCAA study found that as of 2013, only 3 percent of men's basketball programs generated surpluses, which was in line with previous years. No women's programs were profitable. The median loss for basketball programs during that time was $811,000.
Men's basketball is big business for the NCAA, thanks to the 11-year, $10.8 billion broadcast deal it signed in 2011 with CBS (CBS), the parent of MoneyWatch, and Time Warner's (TWX) Turner Sports. That money is used to fund scholarships, provide assistance for athletes and subsidize sports for both men and women. The NCAA also picks up the tab for teams participating in tournaments.
According to the most recent data Villanova submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, the Wildcats basketball team generated revenue of $10.3 million on expenses of $8.2 million. A big chunk of the team's costs comes from coach Jay Wright's salary, which according to the university's latest form 990, was $2.43 million.
Revenue from the Villanova women's basketball team was $2.49 million, equaling its expenses.
"You usually see profits in men's basketball in the power conferences," said Matheson. One such conference is the Big East, where Villanova is a member. "Most schools lose money overall on their athletic programs," he said.
The Wildcats are no stranger to basketball glory, having made it to the Final Four in 2009 where Michigan State eliminated them. Their victory over heavily favored Georgetown in the 1985 championship game is considered to be one of the greatest upsets in the history of college basketball. Of course, Villanova is making the most of its most recent athletic glory.
"It provides the university with a springboard for engagement rather than a massive immediate uptick in donations," Michael O'Neill, the university's vice president for university advancement, told CBS MoneyWatch. "We closed two $100,000 plus gifts with Houston-area alumni. Certainly, the Final Four helped get those gifts over the finish line."
Villanova will also earn a cut from the NCAA's $205 million Basketball Fund, which is earmarked for men's teams only. However, said an NCAA spokeperson, "The funds are not intended to support only men's basketball programs -- schools can use them for any number of purposes, including sports sponsorship/scholarships for the entire department."
Indeed, athletic conferences do disburse those funds to their member schools. Although the NCAA encourages conferences to dole the money out equally to their schools, it doesn't require them to do so. Conferences such as the Pac-12 and the American Athletic Conference follow the organization's advice, while the Big East doesn't.
"We do not split monies evenly," said John Pacquette, a spokesman for the Big East, who declined to disclose how the money was divided or discuss the reasons for the policy. "All schools receive money."
The Big East's policy surprised sports economist John Vrooman of Vanderbilt University, who noted: "Even the once meritocratic Big 12 now splits the bonanza evenly."
Athletic success has surely helped boost both colleges' popularity with prospective students as much as it burnishes their brands with benefactors. About 8,500 students applied to Villanova when it earned its first title in 1985, and that figure hit an all-time high of 17,266 this year. It has raised $515 million of a $600 million capital campaign that started in 2013.
Applications to UConn reached a record high of 34,019 this year, and undergraduate enrollment is at 23,407, nearly double 2001's 13,251. During that time, Uconn's endowment jumped from $165 million to $384 million.
How much of these figures at either school can be attributed to athletic success is impossible to say, but it certainly hasn't hurt, even if the teams themselves mostly lose money.