Mike Henry is the $199,826 man.
Henry is a senior fullback at the University of Minnesota and will play his last college football game Friday at the Texas Bowl. As a blocking back who played in 11 games this year, Henry has been a steady player for coach Jerry Kill but fills a role that does not generate many headlines.
But a new database by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics shows that the school’s cost to put Henry and others like him on the field can be pricey: The University of Minnesota spent $199,826 annually for each scholarship football player, according to the most recent data from 2011, up from $107,636 in 2005.
Henry’s total includes almost everything imaginable that goes into a big-time college football program. There was $8,393 for the lodging and meals associated with team travel; $6,510 for equipment, which includes Henry’s maroon helmet; and $12,402 to pay the wages, benefits and bonuses for the football program’s support staff, including its secretaries and trainers.
Even the $1.92 million in salary and benefits paid to the head coach was factored in: The cost of putting Henry on the field included $22,556 to compensate the team’s head coaches that fiscal year, Kill and fired predecessor Tim Brewster.
By comparison, the university invested $20,688 in 2011 in academic spending per full-time equivalent student.
The costs have not been lost on Henry, who already has graduated as a business and marketing education major.
“I started thinking about our equipment,” a sweaty Henry said after he finished practice last week. “We got two pairs of cleats — practice, game cleats, [and] new helmets — two different helmets. We got shoulder pads. A lot goes into it, and I’m sure the expenditures there aren’t cheap.”
Despite the high costs, Gophers football remains a big moneymaker. While football operating expenses totaled $16.9 million in 2011, total football revenue was $30.5 million. It was even more lucrative in 2012 — the Gophers’ expenses were $16.2 million, and revenue was twice as much at just under $33 million.
Below Big Ten median
Minnesota is not at the high end of football spending, according to the Knight Commission report.
Alabama, which has won three of the past four national championships, spent $342,020 per scholarship player in 2011, nearly double the $175,010 the university spent six years before. Ohio State spent even more — $456,023 per scholarship football player in 2011.
The Gophers’ cost was also below the median for the Big Ten Conference, which was $210,787 in 2011 and even further below the $259,251 median for the Southeastern Conference. Among Big Ten schools, only Minnesota, Indiana ($189.118), Purdue ($132,802) and Illinois ($128,607) spent less than $200,000 per player in 2011, according to the report; spending numbers were not made available by Penn State and Northwestern officials.
Among the Gophers’ closest conference neighbors, Minnesota ranked behind Wisconsin ($278,387), Iowa ($234,782) and Nebraska ($207,704).
The landscape changes when comparing academic spending.
While Ohio State had $20,873 in academic spending for every full-time equivalent student in 2011 — slightly more than Minnesota — Alabama spent significantly less, $15,664.
Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois also had less than Minnesota in academic spending per full-time equivalent student in 2011. While Wisconsin had more football spending per scholarship player than Minnesota, it had less academic spending per full-time equivalent student, $19,246.
The Gophers likewise finished ahead of the Big Ten median of $18,881 in academic spending per full-time equivalent student in 2011.
“The pattern that clearly emerges is that athletic spending is rising rapidly, while academic spending is stagnating,” said Amy Perko, the executive director of the Knight Commission. “The gap is obviously much larger among those institutions competing” in the large-school Football Bowl Subdivision, and is “smallest among those institutions without football.”
Arms race a concern
Perko said the commission, whose board includes the president of Georgetown University and the Big East Conference commissioner, is seeking more ways to reward schools that stress academics and “don’t want to get caught up in the arms race” in athletics spending.
At Minnesota, Tom McGinnis said the university typically does not focus on the cost of an individual scholarship football player or even necessarily on how much the school is spending compared to others.
“We’re spending a lot of time right now investing in football,” said McGinnis, the senior associate athletic director for finance, “[where] we feel we need to make some investments to improve our performance.”
McGinnis agreed that the costs of fielding a top-level football team can be staggering.
“[It’s] jerseys, football helmets, socks, shoes,” he said. “If they bought a new tackling dummy or anything like that, that’s all going to fit into that category.”
Archie Givens, a Gophers defensive back in the 1960s, is advising the school on its fundraising campaign for new athletic facilities, and said the goal is not to constantly compare what Minnesota has with other schools.
“You do look around — but [in] Minnesota, it’s not a race to keep up with everybody,” Givens said.
But then he added: “We’re lagging way behind in keeping up with our facilities [because] it does enter a young, impressionable high school graduate’s mind [when they see] big TVs in the locker room, and all that stuff.”
For Henry, who said he now needs to look for a job, Minnesota’s commitment to football — and him — have made college affordable.
“Financially, I’d say it’d probably be a huge obstacle” to pay for college without the scholarship, said Henry, who graduated from Mahtomedi High School. “My family probably couldn’t handle to pay for [college]. I’d probably have had to take some loans out.”