Go{pher} Broke

In the end, collegiate athletics offer a great opportunity for a variety of people to get on their high horses and bemoan the corruption, commercialization, exploitation and/or coddling of student athletes. Ultimately, it is a tightrope walk between good, clean fun and cutthroat business using slave labor. By successfully lobbying for a new stadium and hiring Tim Brewster and Tubby Smith, Maturi has raised the profile, and the stakes, by which his department operates.

“I look at these every morning,” Maturi says, picking up the funeral programs of three of his former associates from beside his computer. “It helps to remind me that what I’m doing is not life or death. That’s the educator in me, saying that if I’m right, we’ll all have a lot more fun. But we need to keep finding new ways of generating revenue, because expenses aren’t going down. The businessman in me knows the stakes, and the stakes are huge.”


AUTHOR’S NOTE (added on October 19th, 2007):

An October 19th front-page story in the StribU of M gets $10 million tribal gift for stadium — seems to factually contradict our story, but we’re sticking to our guns on this one.

Specifically, in referring to the $10 million gift for the new TCF Bank Stadium recently given the U by the Mdewakanton tribe, the Strib wrote, "Still, the gift is significant for several reasons. As of Thursday, the university had raised $63 million of the $86 million it needs in private gifts and sponsorships to help pay for the $288.5 million stadium. "The remainder of the money is coming from the state and through student service fees."

Documents provided to state legislators voting on what was then a $248 million stadium stipulated that private contributors had to come up with $86 million. I have a copy of such a document. As my story reported, on January 3 of 2007, the regents voted to rebudget the stadium for an additional $40 million in cost–up to $288 million–due to a variety of factors (inflation, environmental and sustainability factors plus wider, more comfortable seats for patrons). U of M Athletic Director Joel Maturi specifically told me that the decision was made to bear that extra $40 million cost without going back to the Legislature and without raising the $12.50 per semester fee on students.

In essence, then, the private contributor stake was boosted from $86 million to $126 million. This was confirmed when Maturi told me that the private fundraising was running ahead of projections. When I asked him if it was still running ahead of projections if the additional $40 million from the rebudgeting was factored in, he said, no, so we still have a lot of work ahead of us. When I asked him what would happen if the private fundraising didn’t cover that entire $126 million, he mentioned that the anticipated $5 million per year in profit now estimated for a fully functioning stadium (meaning all the boxes, suites and club seats sold out) would have to go into the debt service rather than be plowed back into the 25 sports programs the U of M athletic department operates.

Put simply, the Strib story leaves the clear impression that approximately $202 million–the $288 million cost of the stadium minus $86 million in private contributions–would be paid for by the state (money appropriated by the legislature) and student fees. This is not accurate.

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