Gophers pay $800K to opt out of games

Minnesota canceled its two-game series with North Carolina in 2013 and 2014.

Andrew Krammer

The University of Minnesota’s football team will pay $800,000 to cancel a two-game series with the University of North Carolina, athletics director Norwood Teague announced Tuesday.

Teague deferred the nearly $1 million decision to head coach Jerry Kill, who has pushed to opt out of the series since Teague was hired in April.

“The money will be paid over time,” Teague said. “It’s not an $800,000 check we have to write today. It’s not state money. It’s athletic money.

“It’s expensive, and it’s a hit financially.”

The Gophers were scheduled to play North Carolina in a home-and-home series in 2013 and 2014 in which each team would host one game.

Teague said Kill expressed concerns over playing on the road against a Bowl Championship Series-level school this early in the Gophers’ rebuilding process.

“[Kill] feels strongly that in order to build a program in the Big Ten at this level, our kids got to have confidence,” Teague said. “You don’t want to take on a [nonconference] BCS opponent in your first two or three years.”

Kill said the decision to cancel the series developed when he arrived at Minnesota in late 2010 .

“That’s something I spent forever on when I got here, a philosophy of playing at home,” Kill said.

Teague emphasized that “this decision was not made overnight” and that “after a while I finally saw the light in what [Kill] was talking about.”

“We haven’t exactly won at the highest level in football over the last 45 years,” Teague said. “We’ll have to make tough decisions, and this won’t be the last tough decision that I make or coach Kill makes.”

Filling the gaps

The Gophers now have gaps to fill in their 2013 and 2014 schedules. Teague said Minnesota will look to offset the $800,000 by filling the gaps with a couple of extra home games “we wouldn’t [have] had in the future.”

The goal is to generate enough game-day revenue to dwarf the cost of backing out of the North Carolina series. But Minnesota will still have to pay a “guarantee” or a fee to a program for playing at TCF Bank Stadium; that is typically more than $300,000 per game.

For instance, the Gophers paid New Mexico State $800,000 for its game at Minnesota in 2011 and will pay the same for San Jose State to make the trip in 2013, athletics spokesman Garry Bowman told the Minnesota Daily last month. Both are record-highs for Minnesota’s guarantee payouts to visiting football programs .

Teague also announced Tuesday that Minnesota has reached an agreement with the Minnesota State Fair to open the 2013 through 2016 seasons at home on the Thursday before Labor Day — not the following Saturday. 

The Gophers will host Nevada-Las Vegas, Eastern Illinois, South Dakota State and New Mexico State, respectively, in the four openers. They will also host Kent State on Sept. 19, 2015, and South Dakota State on Aug. 29, 2019.