..and it's really not even close.
How can this be true when the Mountaineers failed to win the Big East football crown and have already been knocked out of both the men's and women's basketball tournaments? One word: money. We have it, other schools don't.
Kristi Dosh and Forbes Magazine have published the financial figures of all BCS conferences during the fiscal year starting July 1, 2009 and extending until June 30, 2010. In those series of reports, there are some staggering figures, like Texas netting $68.8 million on football alone, more the four times the top earner in the three lower BCS conferences (Big East, ACC, and Pac 10). As expected, the Big East ranked towards the bottom when compared to other conferences, but West Virginia acquitted itself well.
For the past fiscal year, West Virginia topped the conference on both the top line (gross revenues) and bottom line (net income). In football revenue, Ed Pastilong & Co. (caution, good things are about to be said about Ed Pastilong) brought in $29.5 million, which was $7 million more than second place Pitt. This is to be expected, considering the facilities and attendance advantage that WVU enjoys over the majority of the conference. Still, when it came to football expenses, West Virginia was wise with its money, only spending $14.3 million, which ranked it in the bottom half (or top half, depending on how you look at it) of conference schools. This led to a football-only profit of $15.1 million, more than $10 million more than second place Pitt. Two schools, UConn and Rutgers, made no money for the year (Rutgers lost $2 -- yes, two whole dollars).
Compared to the Texas-sized $68.8 million, West Virginia's haul looks meek to say the least. When compared to peer schools, WVU's profit is more impressive. Not only did WVU best the entire Big East, it also eclipsed every school in the ACC and Pac 10, which obviously includes neighboring Virginia Tech ($14.9 million) and Maryland (which only generated $11.5 million in gross revenue, making it very difficult to turn any kind of profit).
In the overall athletic department figures, West Virginia is still tops by a mile, turning a $5.4 million profit. Louisville profited to the tune of $2.2 million, while no other school beat $110,000. Four schools -- Cincinnati, Pitt, Rutgers, and Syracuse -- made no money.
In the coming years, two schools looked poised to continue a legacy of making serious money in athletics: West Virginia, obviously, and Louisville. WVU is likely to begin construction of both additional football and basketball suites in the coming years, which will greatly increase revenue. Louisville has just built a glamorous basketball facility and added on to their football stadium, bringing capacity in line with Mountaineer Field.
As for the rest of the conference? I really don't know. No school looks prized to make a big jump in either revenue or profit. Rutgers would be best positioned, considering their upgraded football facilities, but they're Rutgers -- enough said. Pitt also has the opportunity, but they still continue to lack the fan base and dedication to manage any type of significant and consistent attendance at Heinz Field.
I would hope, if West Virginia's profits do expand, that two things happen:
1) More money reinvested into the revenue producing sports. That seems a given, considering the commitment to facilities that we've already seen from Oliver Luck, Dana Holgorsen, and Bob Huggins. All three of these men seem dead set on making WVU the best athletics program it can be, so that money should be well spent.
2) Gradual expansion of the non-revenue producing sports. This isn't something where we immediately add 4-5 sports (or restore those sports, depending on if you were a part of the men's track program or not), but every few years introduce a new sport that will make WVU more appealing to a larger cross-section of athlete. Track would be an obvious early candidate, with the requisite additions to women's scholarships to make this possible (please don't let this devolve into a Title IX discussion).
3) A large financial commitment made to establishing a competitive baseball program. I realize that Morgantown, WV is not ideally geographically located for college baseball, but is one College World Series appearance too much to ask? In a conference as weak as the Big East, WVU could become a regional power just as in other sports. A serious financial expenditure would need to be made, however, with the potential of not seeing a great return on investment. In the long run, though, I think WVU and Morgantown would be better served by having a competitive and exciting program.