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College football's $1.1 billion profit

chart_profitable_college_football2.top.gif By Chris Isidore, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The richest college football programs got richer in 2010, pocketing more than $1 billion in profits for the first time.

The profit for the 68 teams that play in the six major conferences was up 11% from the prior school year, according to a CNNMoney analysis of figures filed by each school with the Department of Education.

In the school year that ended in 2010, the vast majority of the schools in one of these deep-pocketed conferences posted a profit. Four of them broke even and only one -- Wake Forest -- reported a loss.

On average, each team earned $15.8 million last year, or well over $1 million per game.

They posted that jump in combined profit even though revenue rose by only 6% to $2.2 billion. That means the schools had a combined profit margin of 49%, enough to make any pro team owner green with envy.

Increasingly lucrative broadcast deals and strong ticket sales have been driving revenue. And, of course, not having to pay your athletes gives big-time college football the ultimate business model.

Bowl-eligible schools in the smaller conferences weren't nearly as profitable. Fifty-three schools split profits of $26 million. Eight lost money.

There was little change in the rankings of the most profitable schools. The University of Texas football program was once again the leader in both revenue, with $94 million, and profit, with $68 million.

Alabama is good enough to rank No. 2 in revenue and No. 7 in profits, while Georgia ranked No. 3 in revenue and No. 2 in profit.

Profits didn't always translate to victories on the field. Texas finished the season 5 wins and 7 losses, and players will be watching the bowl season on television this year. Georgia and Alabama are in small-dollar bowls this year.

But that won't necessarily be a big hit to their bottom lines, as payouts from the bowls are split evenly among all the teams in the conference, rather than going to the team that actually plays the game.

That split is a prime reason the major conferences will fight any effort to bring about a college football playoff system.

Texas Christian University and Boise State were the two small conference teams that met in the big-bucks Fiesta Bowl last year. But TCU's $20 million in revenue, while the most among the small conference schools, would have put it 47th among the big-dollar conference schools. And that $20 million in revenue was only enough to allow the TCU program to break even.

Boise State finished fifth in revenue among the small conference schools with $14.5 million, but it would be 63rd out of 68 among the major conference power houses.

That's the major reason TCU announced last month it would move to the Big East conference in two years.  To top of page

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