Quick question from Chris, on email: One thing you keep failing to point out, Eric, is how important football is to its bottom line. Jurich is risking the school’s biggest moneymaker to give Kragthorpe time to learn on the job. Football money has built this whole athletic program, and the whole “house of cards” could fall if football crashes. Why isn’t this being mentioned?
A: Because it isn’t true. In the biggest-ever revenue year for U of L (the Orange Bowl year), U of L football turned a net profit of $15.9 million. Men’s basketball that year had net proceeds of 21.7 million.
Before that, U of L football’s highest gross revenue was $16 million and change (it was $19 million the Orange Bowl year). And that’s in just two seasons. For all the years in which the majority of athletic building on U of L’s campus was taking place, the football revenue was between $9 million and $11 million per year — and that before expenses were taken out.
Basketball has been the driving force behind everything at U of L, and when it moves into the new arena, it will be so far and above every other college program in the nation at revenue generation that it’s hard to see how football can overtake it. Selling out a 53,000-seat expanded stadium might do it, but I don’t think anyone is expecting this now.
Don’t forget this. For everyone predicting dire attendance for U of L now, I don’t doubt it. But just having a winning team doesn’t mean attendance at U of L will be great. Everybody now has fond memories of the Orange Bowl season. They extol Bobby Petrino, as they should. They note how much better things were then.
But with an outstanding one-loss football team still vying for a Big East title on a cold but sunny Saturday afternoon in December, there were 3,500 no-shows in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
That’s right. Attendance: 38,476. For that team, in that situation. I’m not being critical, I’m just saying how it is. U of L averaged less than 40,000 in its final two games of its most successful season in school history.
So I think either way, it’s going to be quite a while before football is really driving the economic bus at U of L.
A hit in football would hurt, but it would have to be quite a hit to take it below the levels of even four or five years ago.