Part Two: A transcript from an interview with the Star Tribune’s Dennis Brackin and Lou Nanne, chairman of the University of Minnesota’s $190 million athletics fundraising campaign:
Q: You touched on hockey locker rooms and that touches on the arms race idea in college sports, you have to keep up with Michigan, you have to keep up with Wisconsin, so people are going to say, ‘Why does every sport need the best locker room?’
A: First of all it’s not that we need the best. Secondly, do you buy a house and not paint it after 10 years or whatever? Do you not refurbish your home? I don’t know about you, but I know I do. And I know most people, if they have the wherewithal to do it, they improve their homes after they’ve been living in it 15-20-30 years. I don’t know that you just build a house and never put another dollar into it. That’s something I’ve never seen. I’m sure it happens someplace but I think if you have the opportunity, I would like to think you try to improve it and not let it fall behind.
Q: There are prominent people who say that money is out of control in major college athletics, and will be the death of major sports. What’s your reaction to that?
A: Well first of all I have to tell you one thing, they have been saying that for 20, 40 years, it doesn’t change. Everything goes up. When I first came here to school at Minnesota I think chocolate bars were five cents, they’re not five cents anymore.
They said, ‘How can you charge that much for a chocolate bar?’ Well they’re probably $1.50 now or $2 depending on what you’re buying, and we still buy it. You don’t compete in the league and not give your athletes the opportunity to win. That doesn’t mean, and we are never going to be at the top of the spectrum for facilities and you know coaching salaries, etcetera. We’re not going to be at the top, we know that. We don’t have 100,000 seat stadiums like Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, so we’re never going to have as much revenue, but there’s no reason for us to be at the bottom, and we’re at the bottom.
Q: Do you worry about major college athletics, where football coaches Iike Nick Saban make over $5 million?
A: But they take in $150million, be realistic. Why do a lot of salesman make more than the president of a company? Because they bring in business. Does the president quit? Look at a radio station, why do the broadcasters make more than the president of the company? Why do the anchor people make so much money in television? That’s what drives the revenue. You want to be in the game, you pay the price. We know that that’s, I mean when you say, we’re not putting it on is this as important as this? It has nothing to do with importance it has to do with revenues coming in. The more revenues we take in in sports and athletics the more we have an opportunity get better faculty, better students, the more way have to benefit the state of Minnesota from the output of the University of Minnesota. You ask a question that drives me nuts. Why does Saban make more than Obama? More than the President of the United States?
Q: Why does he?
A: Because that’s the way it is in today’s world. That’s what it is. Now is Obama unhappy that Saban makes more? I don’t know, you better ask him.
Q: Do you run into people who say why aren’t you raising money for academics?
A: Athletic success raises money for academics. The people have to start correlating that. They don’t focus on it but that’s a fact. That’s a fact that hasn’t been publicized or out there enough that people understand. That’s a fact and no one will dispute that. Anyone in any successful university where they’re raising money and have successful athletic teams won’t deny that it brings in more money for academics.
Q: Has it been a tough sell to raise money at a time when parents and kids are paying more and more tuition every year?
A: People who are going to make the significant contributions can afford to go to school. Where it’s a tough sell for their kids and them to make payments, they can help in a little way but hopefully their kids go to school there and help in a big way. We have many people in the state who benefit from being in the state that never went to the University of Minnesota that should be involved in this process. We have many. Why do some of us contribute to charities that don’t effect, like say to pick one, multiple sclerosis. My family doesn’t have multiple sclerosis but I want to see them succeed. Why do we do that? Because we like to see progress made. We want to see a cure, we want to see success. Minnesota is one of the most charitable states when it comes to individuals and it’s because we care about things, which we should. And this is something that I feel, the University of Minnesota, that everybody in the state should care about. Now they can’t all help in the same proportion and some are not able to help and it’s understandable, but many are able to help that haven’t. We hope to get that group.
Q: How is it that in this state, with so many big corporations, raising money, at least athletically, has always been difficult?
A: That’s the question that I think we’re trying to address, because I don’t think, I really don’t think that the ‘ask’ has been there. It’s like me, I never got involved in the University of Minnesota until the year 2000; I graduated in 1963. Someone came over and said, ‘Louie we’d like you to be part of it, we’d like you to donate.’ I said, ‘Fine.’ And I got involved. They asked, ‘Why are you doing it now?’ I said, ‘Nobody asked me.’
Q: And there wasn’t ever a solid fundraising plan?
A: That’s right. I don’t think there was a full-scale plan to get people involved. You look around and we have tremendous colleges and universities in the state and many of them have done exceedingly well in fundraising and that’s a great thing. Now it’s our turn to do this. It’s something that I really believe should be done, can be done, and will be done. That’s what we’re going to work at.
Q: At some point you need the big contributions from three or four people.
A: We have plans, we have ideas. You know we have people who want to get involved. I met with somebody last week and they said, ‘I can help this much and I know my other people can help this much.’ I’m excited. There are people that right now, I have had people come up to me and say, ‘It’s about time, count me in.’ So I’m counting them in and it is time.
Q: Are you optimistic of finding a major donor.
A: I am but I wish you wouldn’t say major donor. We’re not looking for a major donor. We’re looking for $190 million, however we get it, not because of a major donor or donors. It’s a plan we’ve got because we think we can get that in place. We have a plan to get there and it’s going to be all of us. We don’t need a couple of top [donors] to be successful but obviously it would make it easier. People think you need a couple of top, no. It’s like anything else. You bite an apple one bite at a time and pretty soon you finish it.
Q: The football program needs it now though, to recruit.
A: The football team isn’t stopping playing football because we don’t have it right now. We have plans to get the stuff but that’s all part of the whole plan.
Q: Yeah but you don’t want 10 years down the road to build the training tables?
A: You shouldn’t be thinking 10 years down the road. I’m not thinking 10 years down the road.
Q: But how soon can you do the training tables and stuff like that?
A: I can’t give you a timeframe on that. Maybe if some of your stocks hit we can do it next week. I’m not giving you a timeframe. … You’re looking at this like a season, like the season starts we have an 80 game schedule and it’s over. This is not the same deal.