This is the time of year where America celebrates college basketball as a spectacle, and more and more, as a business. In 2010, the NCAA struck a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal with CBS and Turner Broadcasting System for the rights to the tournament. Part of that money eventually devolves down to the teams, some of which have become truly enormous profit generators. At The Atlantic, we wondered what this year's bracket would look like if, instead of their on-the-court play, teams won and lost based on their most recent balance sheets. Using data from the Department of Education, we calculated which teams earned the biggest profits during the 2010-2011 fiscal year, then set them up against each other.
The Final Four: Louisville, Duke Ohio State, and the University of North Carolina. Your national champion: Louisville. By a longshot. (Click the bracket below for a full-size version.)
The government's numbers have one major flaw for our purposes. Colleges can hide the true cost of running a money-losing team with some fancy accounting -- essentially by covering up their losses with dollars from the school's general fund. As a result, many teams appear to finish the year breaking exactly even, despite the fact that they're actually in the red. On the bracket, I've marked those programs as having "unknown losses."*
But while the data won't tell you much about most of the money losers, it will tell you a lot about the money makers. Louisville has been college basketball's earnings leader three years running, raking in a monstrous $40.89 million in revenue in FY 2010-2011, and $27.55 million in profit. Second place Duke made a total of $28.91 million in revenue, netting $15.1 million.
College basketball teams earn income off three main things -- ticket sales, donations, and distributions from the NCAA itself, says Transylvania University Professor Daniel Fulks, who analyzes university athletic department finances on behalf of the NCAA. The ticket sales are the most straight-forward part of the equation. Large schools with large stadiums that can pack a crowd have an obvious built-in advantage. Unsurprisingly, four of the five highest revenue generating teams in this year's tournament -- Louisville, UNC, Syracuse, and Kentucky -- also led the NCAA in average per-game attendance.
But a successful team can get by without massive attendance. Duke, with its relatively modest 9,300 seat stadium, is the second most formidable revenue earner in the tournament. They do it with donations from alumni and boosters. Before Blue Devils fans are allowed to buy season tickets at Cameron Indoor Stadium, they're required to make a sizable donations. According to Duke Senior Associate Athletic Director Mike Cragg, the two worst seats in the house require an $8,000 dollar gift on top of the ticket price. Fans give all the way to up to the cost of a year-long scholarship, roughly $55,000. Many other universities have adopted similar practices.
Finally, there are the funds the NCAA distributes to conferences based on their performance in the national championship tournament. Conferences earn money based on the number of games their teams have played in the big dance during the past six years. The more games, the more the conference earns. Last year, the NCAA doled out about $180 million this way. It's up to each conferences to split up its haul between its teams.
Combined, those three categories make up three quarters of most basketball teams' revenue, Fulks says. Now consider Louisville. The Cardinals play in the brand new, 22,000 seat YUM Center, where prospective season ticket buyers are essentially required to make donations before they can claim a seat. According to Forbes, the team received more than $20 million in total contributions last year. It also plays in the Big East, which received the single biggest portion of last year's NCAA tournament bounty.
Wealthy teams, like Louisville, only stand to get richer. In the last few years, the top athletic conferences have signed lucrative television deals for football and basketball worth many millions of dollars to each of their member schools.
But just like in any other game, earning a nice financial return won't necessarily earn a college basketball team points on the court. Arizona is sitting out March Madness, even though it was the third most profitable school in Division I-A last year, with more than $14 million in net income. Other big spending, big-earnings schools such as the Universities of Illinois and Minnesota* will also be watching from home. On the other hand, Mississippi Valley State, which operated at a loss despite a shoestring budget of $682,000, got a shot at the tournament.
Thankfully, in real life, the big money doesn't always win.
*A note about the bracket: In matchups between teams with two unknown financial losses, I gave points for thriftiness and advanced the squad with lower expenses. When a program with an unknown loss played one with a known loss, I gave points for honesty and advanced the team with the known loss.
*An earlier version of this piece mistakenly stated that Wisconsin had not made the tournament (despite having them on my bracket). Having spent time working in the badger state, I realize that residents there rightly get frustrated about being mixed up with their next door neighbor. My sincere apologies.
The Onion had a problem: It fell behind the times. The mock newspaper hadn’t printed an issue on actual paper since 2013, and in the period since, it never redesigned its website. As the media world changed—as the New York Times and the Washington Post adapted the ways they published stories online—The Onion lost a key satirical weapon. Visually, it no longer looked like many of the publications it parodied. And so, like it had done many times before, The Onion tagged along.
Infomercials are fond of marketing strategies that rely on a theory of psychological pricing. You don't pay a flat fee for your Shake Weight or Magic Bullet or Ginsu Knife; you dish out three easy payments. And your payments aren't $40, of course; they're $39.99.
Most of us, for better but probably for worse, are familiar with the sneaky logic of infomercials. That doesn't mean, however, that we are immune to their charms. Nor are we immune to the pull—ironic, and also very much not—of the products that are sold to us in the late night and early morning, our most vulnerable hours, via charismatic pitchmen and sad-sack stand-ins for human frailty. Oxyclean. The PedEgg. The Pocket Hose. The Clapper. The Socket Dock. The food dehydrator. GLH. Which is, I mean, hair that you spray onto your scalp! Even the most savvy consumers among us can find ourselves ensnared by the bleary promise of life-improvement that can be ours, we are told, for only two easy payments of $19.95 (plus shipping and handling).
In 2004, two women who were long past college age settled into a dorm room at a large public university in the Midwest. Elizabeth Armstrong, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan, and Laura Hamilton, then a graduate assistant and now a sociology professor at the University of California at Merced, were there to examine the daily lives and attitudes of college students. Like two Jane Goodalls in the jungle of American young adulthood, they did their observing in the students’ natural habitat.
The researchers interviewed the 53 women on their floor every year for five years—from the time they were freshmen through their first year out of college.
Their findings about the students’ academic success later formed the basis for Paying for the Party, their recent book about how the college experience bolsters inequality. They found that the women’s “trajectories were shaped not only by income ... but also by how much debt they carried, how much financial assistance they could expect from their parents, their social networks, and their financial prospects.”
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
There are plenty of things to be gained from going abroad: new friends, new experiences, new stories.
But living in another country may come with a less noticeable benefit, too: Some scientists say it can also make you more creative.
Writers and thinkers have long felt the creative benefits of international travel. Ernest Hemingway, for example, drew inspiration for much of his work from his time in Spain and France. Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World, moved from the U.K. to the U.S. in his 40s to branch out into screenwriting. Mark Twain, who sailed around the coast of the Mediterranean in 1869, wrote in his travelogue Innocents Abroad that travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
In 2008, I was elected governor of Delaware. In politics, timing is everything. You can be a fantastic candidate and run in a bad year for your party and get clobbered. You can be an absolute dud and run in the right year and get the brass ring. 2008 was a good year to be a Democrat.
But beyond the political benefit, my timing was awful. A month before I took office at the depths of the Great Recession, Chrysler closed its assembly plant in Newark, my hometown. A few months after my inauguration, General Motors shuttered its plant a few miles away. That fall, Valero closed its refinery. Those three employers had represented the best opportunities for high school graduates to get middle-class jobs for decades. Within a year, all were gone.
Do you understand money? Let’s see how well you do with the following questions.
1. Suppose you had $100 in a savings account and the interest rate was 2 percent per year. After five years, how much do you think you would have in the account if you left the money to grow? A) more than $102; B) exactly $102; C) less than $102; D) do not know; refuse to answer.
2. Imagine that the interest rate on your savings account is 1 percent per year and inflation is 2 percent per year. After one year, would you be able to buy A) more than, B) exactly the same as, or C) less than today with the money in this account?; D) do not know; refuse to answer.
3. Do you think that the following statement is true or false? “Buying a single company stock usually provides a safer return than a stock mutual fund.” A) true; B) false; C) do not know; refuse to answer.
Before Napoleon Bonaparte uttered his last words ("France, l'armée, tête d'armée, Joséphine") and perished on the windswept island of Saint Helena at the age of 51, he reportedly treated himself to a feast. The exiled French leader scarfed down liver and bacon chops, sauteed kidneys in sherry, shirred eggs with cream, and garlic toast with roast tomatoes.
Those wishing to revisit his last meal might have a hard time recreating it—Trader Joe's doesn't stock kidneys, last I checked—but they can enjoy the next best thing. The food-advertising director Gus Filgate is creating a series of short films that reproduce the last meals of noteworthy individuals.
The one for Napoleon seems to hint at the visceral, brutal nature of 19th-century French rule: Lard snaps in an iron skillet; kidneys drip with milk; a tomato's head is severed and its guts spew out.