Men’s basketball program profitable

While the Fighting Illini men’s basketball will begin playing Thursday in the NCAA tournament as a No. 5 seed, they recently received a No. 7 ranking in a different poll.

Earlier this week, Forbes.com ranked the Fighting Illini men’s team the seventh most valuable college basketball team in the country, a one-spot drop from last year’s list.

Forbes writer Peter Schwartz said that unlike professional teams that can be bought and sold on the open market, college sports are a “different animal.”

“We wanted to take a look at college sports and really get a good grip on finances in the NCAA,” Schwartz said.

The ranking was based largely on the team’s profit and how much money it accumulates in four different areas: money for academics, the athletics department, the conference and the community.

Although the Fighting Illini, which has a total value of $19.6 million according to Schwartz, did not lead the nation in any of these areas, the team’s high ranking was due to its consistency in all areas.

“I’d say it’s one of the more consistent basketball programs,” Schwartz said.

Most of the Fighting Illini’s revenue comes from ticket sales, said University spokeswoman Robin Kaler. The basketball program also generates a significant amount of revenue through the Big Ten via a complicated formula.

Because of the way the formula works, fewer teams in the conference means more money for individual programs.

“The Big Ten doesn’t have a lot of teams, so that’s why we do so well,” Kaler said.

The athletic program also has a robust athletic booster, I-Fund, which contributed much to the University’s ranking, Schwartz said. The top-tiered teams, like Forbes’ No. 1 team University of North Carolina Tar Heels, often also receive strong donations to their programs.

But the last of those four areas is a very important for the economy of the city of Champaign, said Mayor Gerald Schweighart.

“Whenever you have a successful athletic team from the UI, they generate big crowds, which translates into additional business,” Schweighart said.

Kam’s owner Eric Meyer said that on days where there are basketball games, business at his bars jump sometimes as much as 100 percent.

“I think that was most obvious when we made the Final Four,” Meyer said.

The University made it all the way to the championship game in 2005, and their Final Four victory sent hundreds wearing orange T-shirts to the streets.

The street celebration, however, was a good thing for the city, Schweighart said. The crowd stayed passive and police kept in control. The police chief was even tossing a beach ball back and forth with students.

“It’s the kind of celebration I’d like to see on campus,” Schweighart said.

But the Fighting Illini might have more to look for than just a championship berth while they try to make their way through this year’s bracket, as Schwartz said that a team’s success in the NCAA tournament has a direct correlation with its financial value.

The University of Kansas won last year’s championship and was also successful during this year’s regular season — and the team’s jump to No. 5 in the Forbes poll from last year’s No. 8 spot is a reflection of that, Schwartz said.

Kansas’ success was also the reason for the Fighting Illini’s drop in the Forbes poll. The drop didn’t bother Kaler though.

“With those kind of rankings, you can be very close,” Kaler said. “It’s more kind of the range you’re in over a period of years.”

Either way, Meyer said he’s looking forward to this year’s tournament, as long as some students stay in town during spring break. His bar will even be offering drink specials during the games.

“I anticipate they’ll be glued to the TVs,” he said.