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Florida also tops Ohio State in profits

Ohio State football is a veritable cash machine, but lavish spending leaves it with a modest profit margin by college football standards.

A weekly column by Chris Isidore, senior writer

DETROIT ( -- Previously undefeated Ohio State was upset by Florida in the college football championship game Monday night, but according to at least one line - its bottom line - it went into the game as an underdog.

According to filings college athletic departments make with the U.S. Department of Education, Ohio State is only the seventh most profitable team to go to a bowl this year, with revenue in the football program exceeding expenses by $28.5 million during the 2005-06 school year. Meanwhile Florida is No. 5, with an operating profit of $32.4 million.

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So maybe Florida's 41-14 win over favored Ohio State shouldn't have been as much of a surprise.

This marks the second year in a row that the profit leader upset the heavy favorite on the field in the championship game. In the 2006 Rose Bowl, the University of Texas was the program with the biggest profit and revenue of any bowl team, but many analysts gave it little chance to knock-off the University of Southern California.

But generally, looking at financial results doesn't predict much about bowl game outcomes. This year the winning team had lower revenue than its opponent in 14 of the 32 bowl games that have been played, and the winners had thinner profit margins in 15 games. And the team spending less on their opponents won exactly half the bowl match-ups.

Yes, it's true, Ohio State football is a veritable cash machine. In fact, the flow of money into Columbus is enough to put the Buckeyes No. 3 in the country, only narrowly behind No. 1 Notre Dame ($61.5 million) and last year's national champion, the University of Texas ($60.9 million).

But Ohio State spends far more on its football program than any other school - $32.3 million, according to last year's figures. That's 55 percent above the next-biggest spender among this year's bowl participants, the University of Iowa.

So Ohio State's profit margin is therefore modest by standards of big-time college football (although I'm guessing most corporate CEOs would send their grandmother out to face a blitzing defense without pads or helmets if it meant if they could achieve these kinds of operating margins).

Ohio State's operating profit margin is a bit less than 47 percent of revenue, which is pretty much equal to the average for the 63 teams reporting results. (Navy and the other military academies are not required to report.) Georgia and Ohio State's rival Michigan are the profit margin kings, according to the reports, as they pocket $3 out of every $4 of revenue. Florida, which has a 67 percent profit margin, is No. 5 in that measure.

On the other end of the financial spectrum from Ohio State and Florida, there are 15 schools that went to a bowl this year that reported losses on their football program last season.

The biggest loss among this year's bowl participants was at San Jose State, with expenses of $4.6 million against revenue of only $949,214. Of the 15 money-losing football programs, only three came out of a BCS conference - the ACC's Maryland and Wake Forest, which both reported narrow losses of 3 percent or less, and Cincinnati, the Big East school that had expenses exceed revenue by 61 percent. Another Big East school, Rutgers, broke even on its football program.

The other money-losing schools come from conferences like the WAC, MAC, Conference USA and Sun Belt, which don't have a way to tap into the big television dollars, either through regular-season game broadcast deals or by receiving automatic bids to the big-dollar BCS bowls, which spread the $17 million payout to each team between the members of the school's conference.

Those major football programs are likely to see their revenue only get larger, along with their profit margins, in future reports, as regular-season games are added and many schools spend heavily to increase the seating capacity and luxury suites at their stadiums, to say nothing of the growth of their own cable networks.

And the financial clout of the BCS conferences is a key reason why we will probably be watching the bowl system, rather than a playoff, crown a national champion for the foreseeable future.

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