Debt-free Athletic Department to offer scholarships for non-athletes

The University of Nebraska’s athletic department is the only public member of the Power 5 conferences who is not in debt and receives no money from the state, tax revenues and student fees.

That unique financial stability in the Power 5 — the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 Conference, Big Ten Conference, Pacific-12 Conference or the Southern Conference — allows for an increase in student-athlete benefits, better contracts for athletic gear and more scholarships, not only for athletes, but also for the students.

An example: The athletic department is creating scholarships for students who aren’t even athletes. They’re just students.

In the fall, the athletic department and the financial aid offices at the university will start three categories of scholarships available only for non-athletes who are successful in the classroom and involved in the community.

These scholarships will be called the “Husker Scholars” with three different types: Husker Traditions, Husker Power and Husker Living/Learning.

Husker Traditions and Husker Power are solely based on the applicant’s high school grade-point-average and ACT score, while the Husker Living/Learning is awarded to students who have demonstrated an interest in rigorous academic scholarship and have a zeal for leadership, service and/or diversity.

Justin Brown, director of scholarships and financial aid for the university, said the discussion of a partnership between the athletic department and the university started in the fall of 2017.

“It was an agreement between the leadership of athletics and the campus for them to provide the money,” Brown said. “The agreement stated the scholarships would start with this year’s incoming freshmen and would be more specific for Nebraska residents to help get them to attend the university.”

John Jentz, deputy athletic director and chief financial officer for the athletic department, said the athletic department donated a total of $5 million for the “Husker Scholars.”

“It has been a long-discussed collaboration that would occur when the timing was right,” Jentz said. “That occurred when the athletic department became full financial members of the Big Ten.”

According to the Omaha World-Herald, the university and the athletic department received about $51 million in revenue from the Big Ten Conference for the 2017-2018 academic year, which is double the amount from last year and six times more than when Nebraska was a part of the Big 12 Conference.

This increase in money from the conference, along with the continued support from Nebraska fans, benefits the athletic department and the university.

Bob Burton, recently named deputy athletic director and chief of staff for the university, said the “continued fan devotion and support” helps to increase the numbers every year.

“The high demand for football tickets and the money they are required to donate to receive certain seats, adds to the athletic department’s revenue,” Burton said.

According to the “Nebraska Football Season Ticket Application,” a donation to the athletic department may be required to obtain season tickets and once the tickets are allocated, an annual donation amount “will be locked at the level the tickets are received.”

Jentz agreed with Burton and emphasized the importance of these donations, along with the merchandise fans buy. A majority of this merchandise is Adidas gear, the athletic department’s apparel sponsor, branded with the University of Nebraska logo.

Starting in the 2016-2017 calendar year, Nebraska and Adidas agreed on an 11-year long, $11 million sponsorship, which includes the cash revenue and the product. According to Forbes, this sponsorship ranks fifth in the country for the “Most Valuable Sports Apparel Deal,” behind UCLA, Ohio State, Michigan and Texas.

Jentz said with the additional of the new apparel deal, he can focus on the balance of revenue and expense farther into the future.

“We still evaluate this balance and the revenue as an ongoing discussion, but my focus is more on three to five years out in the future,” Jentz said. “My peers, who are not in the same financial state as our athletic department, are focused on the year-end bottom line.

These “peers” Jentz spoke of are schools like the University of California-Berkeley, LSU, Washington and Illinois who all have over $200 million of debt.

“It’s tough to say for sure why the other schools are so far in debt, but it’s easy to assume they struggle with filling the great facilities they built with fans,” Jentz said.

The money acquired through purchases and donations made by devoted fans provides much needed scholarships and sponsorships for the university and the athletic department, but the fans’ support is not limited to money.

Julia Bond, a senior student-athlete on the bowling team at the University of Nebraska, said the devotion she receives from Husker fans is “unmatchable.”

“Husker fans don’t compare to any other schools’ fans,” Bond said. “They are like a different animal.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *