Bigger 10 could help narrow U of M's athletics budget gap

Nebraska Cornhusker fans
Nebraska Cornhusker fans celebrate in the stands of Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., during a football game against Texas iin 2006. Nebraska officials could decide Friday to join the Big Ten athletic conference.
Nat Harnik/Associated Press

The recent expansion of the Big 10 could help the University of Minnesota athletics department weather reductions in its budget, but it's not likely to be enough to make up for the budget cuts the department faces in coming years.

For long-time University of Minnesota Gopher football fans, memories of playing Nebraska aren't all good ones. Take for instance the infamous September 17, 1983 meeting between the two teams at the Metrodome.

U of M fans still remember the beating they took that Saturday from an unrelenting Cornhuskers team. The final score: Nebraska 84-Minnesota 13.

The two teams haven't played in 20 years, but they'll get another chance though once Nebraska officially enters the Big 10.

The addition of Nebraska means more than just another team for the Gophers to take on in football, basketball and other sports. It also could also result in a boost in revenue for the U of M and all Big 10 schools.

The reason is that Big 10 schools share in the money that comes from national TV contracts. This year that amounted to about $20 million for each of the 11 Big 10 schools. For the U of M, that amounts to about a quarter of the school's total athletics budget.

Add Nebraska to the mix and you've got another school that will share in the revenues, but also a team that's expected to bring in additional money for the group.

U of M athletics director Joel Maturi said that's because Nebraska Cornhusker fans will add to the national TV audience for college football and bring in more subscribers to the Big Ten Network, a cable channel that focuses on Big 10 sports.

"Obviously [it] will lend itself to some dollars, which we would be a part of the revenue sharing. But I'm not aware of how much money that would be," Maturi said.

The U's athletics budget next year is $76 million, but the athletics department doesn't bring in enough money on its own to support that budget. It will receive $2.3 million from the U's general operating fund as a subsidy.

That money is scheduled to decline over the next several years before it's completely phased out. The athletics department is working on finding new streams of revenue to make up for that loss.

But U of M athletics officials say any additional revenue from Nebraska's inclusion in the Big 10 isn't likely to cover that deficit.

Patrick Rishe, an associate professor of economics at Webster University in St. Louis and a writer for the SportsMoney blog for Forbes.com, said he doesn't think adding Nebraska to the Big 10 will mean a windfall for any of the conference's schools.

"I wouldn't see it being more than somewhere in the range of $500,000 to $2 million more per school," Rishe said.

But Rishe said the Big 10 could reap bigger revenues for all its member schools if it expands further, and especially if it welcomes one school in particular.

"If the Big 10 added Notre Dame then you would definitely see a significant increase in the revenues that are received and shared across all the Big 10 schools," he said.

University of Minnesota athletics officials say future expansion of the Big 10, and any additional revenue it brings, will be an important part of balancing their budget.

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