May 24 (Bloomberg) -- The University of Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team had a $1.5 million loss last year, highest in the country and more than triple the combined losses of the three other schools competing for the national title this weekend.
One of the most successful programs never to have won a National Collegiate Athletic Association lacrosse championship, the Fighting Irish spent $1.69 million and had $142,169 in revenue, the lowest in Division I, according to data submitted to the U.S. Department of Education. Virginia Military Institute, which hasn’t had a winning record since 2000, had the next-lowest revenue at $287,295.
Notre Dame athletics spokesman John Heisler said the athletic program doesn’t run sport-specific fundraising campaigns, which may be one reason for the lower revenue figure.
“I can’t speak for how other people add the numbers, but we don’t have an athletic fundraising arm, we have a very centralized development operation,” Heisler said in a telephone interview. However, Notre Dame fans can contribute specifically to the men’s lacrosse program, and Heisler said those donations are reflected in the reported revenue.
Notre Dame (11-5) faces Maryland (13-3) today in the second NCAA semifinal in Baltimore. Top-seeded Duke (15-3), the defending champion, faces Denver (16-2) in the opening semifinal. The final is two days later.
Of the remaining teams, Denver is the only one to record a profit during the 2013 season, reporting revenue $1 higher than its $2.03 million in expenses. Duke, which also won the NCAA title in 2010, had a loss of $85,705, while Maryland’s loss was $376,773.
Some of the biggest money losers in men’s lacrosse are larger schools. The 10 schools with the largest deficits include semifinalists Notre Dame, Maryland and Duke, as well as North Carolina, Syracuse, Ohio State and Penn State.
The Big Ten conference announced last year that it was adding men’s and women’s lacrosse as its 27th and 28th sports starting next season. Deputy Commissioner Brad Traviolia said the sport’s growth at the youth level and the conference’s recent expansion were the primary factors.
“No one has the crystal ball, and it’s not the conference’s mission to sponsor sports purely from a financial standpoint,” Traviolia said in a telephone interview.
Notre Dame’s $1.69 million in men’s lacrosse expenses last year were close to those of nine-time champion Johns Hopkins ($1.48 million) and five-time winner Virginia ($1.77 million). Notre Dame’s $142,169 in revenue places it between Division III programs at Rhodes College in Memphis and Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, according to the Department of Education.
One of four Division I teams with a perfect Academic Progress Rate score, Notre Dame averaged 1,773 fans at its seven home games in 2013. That number decreased to 1,538 this season, when the program joined the Atlantic Coast Conference. Denver, by contrast, averaged 2,173; VMI averaged 303.
Heisler said much of the team’s expenses come from recruiting trips and travel to and from games -- after this weekend the Fighting Irish will have played in nine states in 2014, including California and Florida. He said the school anticipated a slight increase in travel expenses with this year’s move to the ACC.
“That’s all part of the student-athlete experience, that’s part of exposing our program and part of exposing the game in general,” Heisler said. “We’re not looking at this as a situation where the scope of our program is within a two-hour radius.”
Another major cost for programs is scholarships, which Heisler said cost about $50,000 per athlete. The NCAA allows 12.6 scholarships for men’s lacrosse, which Notre Dame first began offering in full during the 2004-05 academic year.
The Irish have made nine straight NCAA tournament appearances, including a loss to Duke in the 2010 final. Their 14 tournament game wins rank second for a program that hasn’t won a championship, trailing only Navy’s 16.
Michigan’s lacrosse program was the only one to make more than $300,000 in 2013. The Wolverines, who started their varsity program in 2012, reported a $668,977 profit on the country’s highest revenue ($2.38 million).
Michigan athletics spokesman David Ablauf said in an e-mail that the revenue figure was “almost entirely” from lacrosse-specific donations.
Heisler declined to detail how much of the Notre Dame lacrosse revenue was from donations, or provide an update on this year’s finances. The school’s football team had $78.3 million in revenue in the year through June, fourth most in the NCAA.
Unlike the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, there is no payout for the lacrosse champion or its conference. The Indianapolis-based NCAA covers each school’s travel, room and food this weekend in Baltimore, spokeswoman Meghan Durham said in an e-mail.
There were about 1.8 million lacrosse players in the U.S. last year, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s 2014 survey, up 66 percent from 2008, the second-largest jump in team sports behind rugby. In that same time, basketball participation fell 10 percent and tackle football dropped about 21 percent.
Those two sports are still in their own tier at the NCAA level from a business perspective. Traviolia said the Big Ten views lacrosse as part of the “next level.”
“It has the potential to do very well with in-person attendance, and to have significant television interest, modest compared to football and basketball but large compared to the other sports,” he said. “It could become very successful.”
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