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Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Pay for play: Northwestern

By Adam Rittenberg

Starting today, ESPN.com will take a closer look at pay-for-play in college sports and whether student-athletes should be getting more from their athletic scholarships. As part of the series, we're looking at the finances from one school in each major conference.

Here's a closer look at Northwestern ...

What a full scholarship entails: $56,120 (includes room, board, tuition, fees and use of books)

Cost of attendance: $58,429 (can be slightly higher for students with permanent residences farther from campus, as travel costs would be included)

School / Revenue / Expense

Football (number of athletes -- 105) / $22,704,959 / $15,733,548

Men's basketball (number of athletes -- 15) / $10,048,801 / $4,158,854

Other sports -- Men's (number of sports / number of athletes; 6/106) / $656,037 / $4,093,011

Other sports -- Women's (number of sports / number of athletes; 11/239) / $764,483 / $11,426,624

Total: $0 (revenue -- expense) / $48,921,823 / $48,921,823

Student fees: $383

Amount athletics receives from student fees: $39 per student

If the Big Ten continues to champion a proposal to increase the value of athletic scholarships, Northwestern will be on board.

As a charter member of the conference, Northwestern takes pride in standing on equal footing with its Big Ten brethren. But in many aspects, including finances, Northwestern is an outlier.

"We would agree to what the vote is for the conference because we need to be with our peers," said Steve Green, Northwestern's deputy athletic director for internal affairs. "Northwestern's always been good at making sure that we're not at any competitive disadvantage, that we're like everybody else."

Green then added: "We're not like everybody else. We're a little different."

Northwestern is the Big Ten's only private institution, and its athletic department is more linked to and dependent on the university than the others in the conference. Like every league member, Northwestern has benefited greatly from Big Ten Network revenue, but most of the funds it receives funnel back to the school.

The reason? The university covers most of Northwestern's athletic scholarships, which don't come cheap at $56,120 a pop.

"You multiply that by the number of financial grants we give, which is about 265; that’s a lot of money," Green said. "So anything that increases the cost affects our bottom line. It would just add to the challenge if that cost kept on going up. Stanford has all of their scholarships endowed, which is great. We're not there yet. We still have a long way to go."

Northwestern has approximately 25 percent of its athletic scholarships endowed, Green said. Although the number has increased, the economic downturn has made fundraising more challenging.

There are other differences. As part of public institutions, the other 11 Big Ten athletic departments can sell bonds if they fall into debt. Northwestern, meanwhile, never falls into the red.

"We have zero debt to finance," Green said.

With the smallest football and basketball venues in the Big Ten -- Ryan Field seats 47,130; Welsh-Ryan Arena holds 8,117 -- Northwestern can rely only so much on ticket sales for revenue. But the school has increased its commitment to athletics with recent initiatives like the program's first full-fledged marketing campaign and an ongoing facilities master plan. Northwestern also made a splash in May by finalizing a 10-year contract for football coach Pat Fitzgerald.

The athletic department's goal is to balance its operating expenses and its revenue. Both areas have increased in recent years, but keeping revenues on the rise has been challenging.

Northwestern ultimately would get its biggest financial boost from getting more scholarships endowed.

"The endowment income has grown, which is good," Green said. "It needs to go faster, that's all. The less we demand or need from the university, the better off we will be. We will be able to be a little more independent."

Although a more costly scholarship structure would increase the burden on Northwestern athletics, Green thinks the university would find ways to make things work.

"The school has shown in the past that it wants to compete at this level," he said. "On the financial side, there's a belief that we can get it done within the guidelines established by the central administration."