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Louisville Cardinals, Most Profitable College Basketball Team

Sunday, 24 Mar 2013 | 3:49 PM ET
The Louisville Cardinals celebrate after winning against Syracuse during the final of the Big East Men's Basketball Tournament in March 2013.
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The Louisville Cardinals celebrate after winning against Syracuse during the final of the Big East Men's Basketball Tournament in March 2013.

March Madness. The Big Dance. Or its more formal name: The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

Call it what you want, but every year, schools from around the country compete for the national title.

This year's top overall seed is the University of Louisville. They also happen to be number one in another aspect of college basketball: money.


"Louisville is the most profitable team in College Basketball," said sports economist Patrick Rishe.

Just from the game of basketball, the Louisville Cardinals takes in more than $40 million in revenue. Profit has been projected to be anywhere betweem $23 and $28 million.

"That's largely due to the new KFC Yum Center," said Rishe about the state-of the-art arena built in 2010. "They also get $20 million in donations from alumni, which is larger than most schools' overall athletic budgets in basketball."

(Read More: How College Athletes Could End Up Getting Paid Like Pros)

The basic point is that Louisville is the most profitable program...and it's not even close.

According to Forbes, three teams (Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky) are tied for second with $19.9 million in basketball-related profits.

The bulk of the money may come from fundraising, but the arena really differentiates Louisville from most schools, even from cross-state rival Kentucky.

The Cardinals are one of only three teams in the country to draw more than 20,000 fans a game, which is more NBA-like than NCAA-like.

(Read More: March Madness Ad Haul Spirals Higher Than Any Sport)

And they do so at a premium price. "The average ticket price for University of Louisville basketball is $35, which doesn't seem that expensive, but it is more expensive than the average ticket price for about seven NBA teams," Rishe noted.

Also like pro basketball—and unlike most NCAA programs—they also sell beer. In fact, concessions add another half a million dollars to the bottom line.

(Read More: How to Win Your March Madness Pool)

—By CNBC's Brian Shactman; Follow him on Twitter: @bshactman

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