Athletics will share in new network revenue

Jake Grovum

Amid annual tuition increases, the debate over how much University and state money should go to athletics has brewed for years.

With the recent launch of the Big Ten Network, the athletics department stands to see an additional $7.5 million in revenue annually, associate athletics director Tom Wistrcill said.

“This is an obviously good shot in the arm for us with the Big Ten Network revenue,” he said. “That helps us sustain and grow our programs.”

The increased revenue will allow the athletics department to reduce its dependence on University central funding further than previously planned, senior associate athletics director Elizabeth Eull said.

The athletics department will reduce its dependence on central funding by $1.5 million over the next two years, Eull said.

“We have this new source of income we hadn’t had in the past,” she said. “It makes sense that athletics becomes even less dependent on central funding.”

The upcoming drawbacks will take place in two steps. The athletics department will reduce its funding by $750,000 in the 2008 fiscal year, an increase of $250,000 from the original plans.

In 2009, the University will cut athletics funding by another $750,000 due to the increased revenue.

While the revenue from the network will aid in the athletics department’s move toward independence, funding cuts have been on the horizon for a number of years.

In March 2003, then-University president Mark Yudof ordered a study of the athletics department and its trends, Eull said.

Following the study, University and athletics department officials moved to reduce the amount the athletics department receives from the University.

Prior to the decision to cut funding, the athletics department received $8.7 million in the 2002 fiscal year, Eull said.

This trend has carried over into the term of current University President Bob Bruininks.

“(Bruininks) has made it a point during his presidency,” University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said. “One of his main goals is to, over time, reduce the reliance on Ö central allocation, state money.”

The original plans called for gradual decreases in funding to end this year, settling at $5.8 million from the University for athletics.

With the additional revenue and funding cuts, Eull said the athletics department will see “closer to $5 million” from the University once cuts are complete.

While Bruininks has moved to decrease athletics funding, Pfutzenreuter said the Minnesota Legislature’s guarantee to fund women’s athletics acts as a barrier, limiting how low drawbacks can go.

“That appropriation is part of the reason athletics gets the money they get,” Pfutzenreuter said. “(Bruininks) doesn’t want to erode that particular support.”

The money that stays in the central fund instead of going to the athletics department will allow the University to invest in new faculty, student programs and other needs, Pfutzenreuter said.

“It gives us an opportunity to gradually reduce the reliance of athletics on centrally allocated money,” he said. “We can take the money we were giving athletics and focus it more on the academic investments that need to be made.”

The athletics department has needed increased funding over the years for various programs, Pfutzenreuter said, but funding has decreased nonetheless.

“They have salaries for assistant coaches that are below the average in the Big Ten,” he said. “There are competitive needs in athletics to fund investments as well.”

Despite decreased funding, Eull said the athletics department generates additional revenue each year and can make up for funding cuts.

The athletics department uses what funding they have to cover their “priorities,” which Eull said are “making sure we can field competitive teams.”

“It’s really balancing the need to meet both those goals,” Pfutzenreuter said.