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Ladies Hoops & Bucks

2008 March 2
by Skip Sauer

From Greg Auman in the St. Petersburg Times, where the Women’s Final Four will take place next month:

Much seems rosy in the women’s game until you get to the bottom line for the 2005-06 season: a staggering $169-million in losses. That total is for the 333 schools in NCAA Division I as reported to the U.S. Department of Education. The figure is probably conservative because 80 schools reported their expenses matched their revenues, to the last dollar.

Still, proponents say it’s a worthwhile investment in giving women’s basketball a chance to catch up to the older and more established men’s game.

“The emphasis has been placed on putting more money, more energy, more manpower on women’s basketball,” said Candice Storey, senior women’s administrator at Vanderbilt, which lost more money on women’s basketball than any school in 2005-06. “It’s just a slow process getting it to translate to real dollars.”

At the sport’s highest level, in the 11 largest conferences, the losses are more than $1-million per school, with 18 schools losing more than $2-million, according to the DOE. Men’s basketball, by comparison, generated a $240-million profit in the same year, largely on two things the women still lack: a lucrative TV package and strong attendance. The women’s game is still working to build the national audience and fanatical interest the men have enjoyed for decades.

The bottom line for women’s hoops should not be on revenue. The fact is that just about all intercollegiate sports lose money. That men’s football and basketball help pay the bills of the other programs at big time sports schools is nice, thanks very much.

Still, there is the sense that women’s hoops has the potential to generate more revenue. Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma thinks his team needs to be taken down a peg for that to happen:

If powerhouses such as Connecticut are the rare economic model, the success story that all women’s programs hope to be, they also may be part of the difficulty schools have in getting there.

Auriemma told the Times before this season that the parity coming to women’s basketball may be something that helps the sport become profitable. As much as dynasties such as Tennessee and the Huskies have given exposure to their game, Auriemma said the sport needs the any-given-Sunday chaos of the NFL, where huge upsets can come on any field, even at the Super Bowl.

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