Basketball-wise, La Salle might not be out of its league when the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 begin play tonight. Money-wise, however, the Explorers inhabit a different universe from most of the teams that have advanced this far.
Little La Salle spent $2 million on basketball during the 2011-12 school year and earned $2.3 million, for a modest $300,000 profit. Compare those modest numbers with those of Louisville, the tourney's overall No. 1 seed, which spent $15.4 million and earned an astounding $42.4 million, a $27 million profit.
Those are the figures the institutions listed on the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act forms they are required to file annually with the Department of Education.
Comparisons are not exact because filing guidelines can vary from school to school. Still, the EADA forms provide the best available overall insight into the runaway spending trend in college sports.
La Salle, in a financial sense, is one of three interlopers in the remaining NCAA field, along with its opponent, Wichita State, and Florida Gulf Coast.
Of the 16 survivors, only tiny Florida Gulf Coast spent less ($1.098 million), earned less ($1.15 million), and turned a smaller profit ($52,000) on basketball than the Explorers. Wichita State listed expenses of $4.6 million and revenue of $5 million.
The 13 other schools — all from BCS football conferences — averaged expenses of $8.1 million, revenue of $18.3 million, and a profit of $8.5 million.
If, as many increasingly argue about college sports, budget size equates with success, then Louisville was deserving of its top seed. The Cardinals' reported basketball profit dwarfed the field, $14.1 million larger than the next-closest Sweet 16 program, Ohio State ($12.9 million).
If the four regionals' outcomes were determined by how much each team spent on basketball, Duke ($15.9 million) would defeat Louisville in a closely fought Midwest final. The other regional champions would be Kansas ($12.7 million) in the South, Arizona ($7.9 million) in the West, and Syracuse ($14.2 million) in the East.
If basketball profits were the determinant, the Final Four would be Louisville, Michigan ($3.9 million), Ohio State ($12.9 million), and Syracuse ($11.6 million).
Ohio State leads all 16 teams in money spent on overall athletics. The Buckeyes' 2011-12 expenditures totaled $116 million. Florida spent $111 million. The only other still-alive school with a nine-figure athletic budget was Michigan ($100 million).
La Salle listed athletic expenses of $12.9 million that year.