In the cash-strapped context of the Big Five, it's not surprising that Villanova has been the only Philadelphia team to reach the Final Four since 1980.

The Wildcats, who will play North Carolina in a national semifinal Saturday night, spent $4.9 million on men's basketball last season. That was $2 million more than St. Joseph's, $1.9 million more than Temple's, and nearly seven times what Penn spent.

But nationally, where Division I-A football schools tend to dominate in basketball as well, the Wildcats' appearance in Detroit this weekend is something of an oddity. Of the 40 Final Four teams since 2000, Villanova is only the fifth without a football team in one of the six Bowl Championship Series conferences.

Its expenses and revenues, for men's basketball and for all sports, were dwarfed by those reported by Michigan State, North Carolina, and Connecticut.

In the 2007-08 season, the Wildcats' men's basketball program earned $5.8 million, according to figures filed with the U.S. Department of Education. That included ticket sales, TV revenue and fund-raising.

With $4.9 million in expenses - including coach Jay Wright's salary (an estimated total package of more than $1.5 million) and scholarships - Wildcats basketball turned a profit of nearly $1 million.

But men's basketball is Villanova's only money-maker. To balance its $23.9 million sports budget, the athletic department required a subsidy of $13.9 million from the university.

That's not unusual for schools like Villanova. Red-ink sports budgets are the norm at institutions that don't play Division I-A football - and even at most that do.

According to the Knight Commission, a college-sports watchdog, 90 percent of Division I-A athletic programs lost money in 2004-05 and required, on average, university subsidies of $7.1 million.

While Villanova is a basketball member of the Big East and shares in the conference's annual $22 million TV contract, its football team competes in the Division I-AA Colonial Athletic Association. Multimillion-dollar football deficits and university subsidies are commonplace for CAA members

Villanova's numbers might sound impressive, but its athletic finances are minor league compared to its Final Four competitors.

Michigan State spent $6.8 million on basketball last season, $45 million on its sports programs. Coach Tom Izzo's base pay is $1.79 million, but, like most of his colleagues, he earns additional income from sources such as TV and radio shows and shoe companies. Izzo also received $9.8 million in bonuses after signing a new deal several years ago and, as a result, in 2006 earned more than $7 million.

For North Carolina, the numbers were $6.7 million for basketball and $61 million overall. Coach Roy Williams' base salary is believed to be $2 million.

For Connecticut, a fellow Big East Conference member but one that plays Division I-A football, they were $6 million for basketball and $54.6 million overall. Coach Jim Calhoun earns base pay of $1.6 million.

Villanova's listed football revenue was $4.2 million. But, according to Brian Murray, an assistant athletic director for business operations, $3.5 million of that came from the university.

The other three Final Four schools reported huge profits from football, though the lack of precise standards in the federal forms they filed - Equity in Athletics Disclosure Forms - make exact financial comparisons difficult.

Michigan State athletic officials said that school's sports budget was entirely self-sustained. A Connecticut spokesman said 75 percent of its sports budget came from ticket sales, TV and radio and the conference, while 25 percent was generated by student fees. North Carolina officials did not immediately respond to inquiries.

Still, even taking some school-to-school fluctuations into account, the Big Ten's Michigan State's listed profit in football alone (nearly $26 million) was greater than the Wildcats' entire sports budget.

North Carolina of the Atlantic Coast Conference made $7.4 million from football, Connecticut $8.8 million.

In terms of recruiting budgets, the gaps were just as striking.

Villanova's athletic department spent $237,865 on recruiting, Michigan State $744,715, Connecticut $766,357, and North Carolina $834,948.

One category in which Villanova basketball surpassed its rivals was in expense per athlete. That's an average of how much is spent per player beyond scholarship benefits.

The Wildcats average expense per men's player was $138,990. Michigan State's was $121,634, Connecticut's, $104,107, and North Carolina's $75,128.

"That's uniforms, travel, things like that," Murray said. "And most of it is travel. A couple of years ago, we moved all of our basketball flights to charters."

Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.