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Cincinnati, Florida a study in contrasts

NEW ORLEANS -- Cincinnati and Florida are both in BCS auto-bid conferences, but the similarities between the two programs pretty much end there.

You can't describe the Allstate Sugar Bowl as a true David vs. Goliath matchup since both teams compete at the highest level. And Cincinnati is actually ranked higher than the Gators, at No. 3 vs. No. 5. Yet when it comes to areas like resources, facilities and fan bases, you be hard pressed to find a more lopsided mismatch in a game of supposed BCS equals.

Florida, of course, is one of the gold standards in college football, having won two of the last three BCS championships. According to a recent Forbes Magazine survey, the Gators are the sixth-most valuable college football team in America, with a $41 million profit last season.

The school projected $59.4 million in revenue from the football program in 2009 and had an $89 million total athletic budget for the current fiscal year.

While the Gators rake in money like Big Oil, the Bearcats are more like a mom-and-pop gas station.

Even with last year's Orange Bowl berth, Cincinnati generated a little less than $14 million in revenue from its football team, placing it last among Big East schools. That added up to a profit of a little more than $1.3 million, or about what Florida spends on Gatorade.

The Cincinnati athletic department had a total budget of $26 million last year. While it officially showed a slight profit, the Bearcats are saddled with debt from construction of the Lindner Center, which was the centerpiece of the school's Varsity Village expansion project which helped get it into the Big East. In order to try and make ends meet, Cincinnati announced this spring that it would cut scholarships to three men's sports -- track, cross country and swimming.

Florida, meanwhile, recently opened a $28 million football complex that was funded entirely by boosters.

While all of the Gators' facilities are top of the line, Cincinnati tries to do more with less.

The team has to practice inside Nippert Stadium because it has no practice fields. Former coach Brian Kelly complained about how he had only 50 yards to work with his spread offense since the defense took the other half of the field. The school is scheduled to open practice fields and a bubble next season, but the project took a year longer than expected because of slow fundraising. During inclement weather during their past two BCS bowl practices, the Bearcats had to bus more than 25 miles to an indoor soccer center in Mason, Ohio, to get in their workouts.

While Cincinnati had sellout crowds nearly all season and has reached an all-time high in season-ticket sales, charmingly cozy Nippert Stadium seats only about 35,000 and has no luxury boxes or other means of generating extra revenue. At Kelly's insistence, the school is looking at ways to expand the facility, but that is still in the studying phase.

Florida, on the other hand, averaged 90,635 fans per game this season at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

"We know we're not as fortunate as everybody else, but we like that," Cincinnati linebacker Craig Carey said. "We like the building part of our team. As we kept winning and winning this year, we became the team to beat in the Big East. But playing a team like Florida, we are the underdog."

It could be years and years, if ever, before the Bearcats come close to matching the resources and advantages that Florida's program has. Still, they have a chance to one-up the Gators on the field Friday night.

"We don't look at it as David versus Goliath or little man versus big man," linebacker Andre Revels said. "We look at it as, they have pads and we have pads, they play on a football field and so do we. It's just football players going up against each other for a 'W.'"