Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle said the university is in a great position as the new year begins, both in its finances and sports success, even if he knows the program needs to continue to grow in both areas.
Some of the things Coyle remains most proud of are the graduation rates and GPA numbers of his athletic department, which both rank extremely high nationally, especially for a public institution.
On top of that, Coyle has been pleased with the performances of his head coaches, including the new hires of Bob Motzko in men’s hockey, despite his team’s struggles, and Lindsay Whalen in women’s basketball, where she had early success in her first head coaching job.
Coyle knows there is an arms race in college sports when it comes to growing the athletic department budget and he recently broke down where the Gophers are at the beginning of 2019.
“Our budget this year is $122 million — that ranks us eighth [out of 14 teams] in the Big Ten Conference with our peers,” Coyle said. “Our budget, there is five main revenue sources for our budget. You have the Big Ten and NCAA money that comes from the Big Ten Network and NCAA. We have ticket sales and fundraising, we have licensing and then we have a miscellaneous bucket of money that comes in for our department.”
Did the 2017-18 academic year budget play out the way he expected?
“We’re still going through our internal audits, but everything appeared to hit our budget and had a balanced budget that we presented to the Board of Regents and we think we hit those numbers,” he said.
Coyle added that it’s never the goal of the Gophers athletic department to make money but just to break even with whatever expectations are set at the beginning of the year.
USA Today’s most recent breakdown of the Big Ten athletic department budgets for 2016-17 had Ohio State and Michigan in a deadlock for first at around $185 million, compared to the Gophers at $113 million. Does he worry about competing with those schools?
“Both of those programs obviously have, with their strong football traditions and stadiums, their budget numbers are higher,” Coyle said. “I think both of those programs are at the top or near the top of revenue with respect to the Big Ten Conference.”
A bigger goal, he said, is getting more in line with such schools as Iowa ($130 million budget, according to USA Today) and Wisconsin ($143 million).
Attendance remains elusive
Maybe the biggest question for Coyle and the athletic department revolves around getting fans back into the stadiums and arenas. Announced football attendance for the 2018 season was 265,407 over seven home games, an average of 37,915 per game. Those numbers were down from 310,506 in 2017, when the average was 44,358.
Coyle said the questions around attendance are not simply a University of Minnesota problem.
“We have lots of conversations about increasing the football attendance,” Coyle said. “Obviously you’re at our games and you saw where we have some open seats. We have taken a hard look at how we price our tickets, our scholarship seating, and those are things we’ll continue to evaluate.
“This is a problem across the country in college football, where attendance is dropping and we have to get creative with how we can get more people to come to our games.”
Coyle said that a big focus will be on increasing the season ticket base.
“The season ticket holders are the backbone of your program, and we have to get very creative and innovative in how we can get those people back on to support our student athletes,” he said. “Season ticket renewal orders have already gone out for our season ticket holders and this past year we did reduce seating in certain sections of the stadium and we have those plans in place and we’ll always look at group sales and other opportunities, as well.”
Has he had similar thoughts about the seemingly low hockey attendance?
“We always focus on attendance, whether it be hockey, basketball, baseball, we worry about attendance,” he said. “Our goal is to earn people back.”
Looking forward to 2019
Coyle said that when it comes to goals for 2019 the U will continue to focus on fundraising for the athletes village along with having high hopes for their hockey and basketball programs.
But he said first and foremost the U continues to focus on the relationship with student-athletes.
“I think our first goal — and I do not mean to repeat myself — is we provide a great experience for our student-athletes, and we don’t want to lose sight of that,” Coyle said. “Academically we continue to have record graduation success rates; we announced at 93 percent. Academically we are doing well, all of our teams are above 3.0 [GPA]. With respect to fundraising we just need to continue to raise those monies to help pay down our debt on the Athletes Village.”
• Something P.J. Fleck can’t be looking forward to: In 2021, the Gophers football team will open the season on Sept. 4 with Ohio State at home. The Gophers follow that up with nonconference games vs. Miami (Ohio) and Bowling Green at home and travel to Colorado. That’s got to be one of the toughest schedules to start the season they have had in a long time.
• According to Rivals.com, the Gophers already have commitments from two of the state’s top five football recruits for the Class of 2020 in Aaron Witt of Winona and Jonathan Mann of Rosemount. The other three top recruits who are not committed are all from Minnehaha Academy: Kaden Johnson, Jalen Suggs and Craig McDonald.
• U.S. Bank Stadium General Manager Patrick Talty, on attracting future Final Fours: “There are only so many stadiums that can host a Final Four, it’s a great community to have an event in and I think we would always be interested in finding another Final Four or bidding on those type of things.”
• Former Cooper basketball standout Rashad Vaughn, a first-round draft pick in 2015 of the Milwaukee Bucks, is trying to get back to the NBA with the 76ers’ G-League team. The 6-6 guard has not appeared in the NBA this season after playing 139 games over the previous three, averaging only 3.0 points per game.
• Former Gophers forward Reggie Lynch is playing professionally for BC Kalev in Latvia. Lynch is averaging 11.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
• Lester Bagley, Vikings executive vice president, said the five prep football games at the TCO Stadium in Eagan in 2018 went over extremely well and said the Vikings are looking forward to more events in 2019. “We’re going to discuss high school lacrosse and potentially hosting that out here, other sports, other events, but first and foremost we’re very happy with delivering the prep spotlight, five high school football games here in 2018.”