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An inside look at Idaho’s athletic budget and how money games fit in

In today's paper, I wrote about the shifting revenue streams for Idaho's athletic department and the increasingly important role of money games, like today's at Florida State. The Vandals are getting a princely sum -- $950,000, the biggest payout in school history -- to play the No. 2 Seminoles today (12:30 p.m., ESPNU). But there's a contingent of UI fans -- and perhaps players, too -- who don't think the huge amount of money is worth risking injuries and embarrassment on national TV.

Vandals athletic director Rob Spear had some interesting thoughts on this topic that I explored in the story. And I have more from Spear below.


-- Regarding injuries and playing power-conference teams, here's what Spear said: "No question you need to balance out the competitiveness aspect with the financial aspect. But historically, from a physical standpoint, I think we have less injuries playing against the bigger schools than we do against other schools. My theory is you’re playing against some great athletes that get themselves out of bad positions that sometimes can get your guys hurt.”

Then Spear added: "Football’s a brutal game. We could scrimmage a high school team and somebody could blow out an ACL. But I think it’s overrated to think you get beat physically down by a superior team. I worry more about the mental part of it."

-- As I wrote about, game guarantees account for 20 percent of UI’s athletic revenue in the 2014 fiscal year (which began July 1). Three years ago, they made up just 8 percent of the total. All told, Idaho will generate just over $3 million in football payouts this year, the majority from the FSU, Ole Miss and Washington State games. But that's the gross figure. Idaho will net around $2.1 million in football payouts after handing out approximately $900,000 to bring teams into the Kibbie Dome for home games.

-- Something that didn't make the story was what Spear said about the role athletics play for the university. He showed me a slide from a recent presentation he gave, and said this:  "That’s one of my things here is the value of athletics. We’re going to go play Florida State. The game is what it is. It’s on ESPNU. Idaho gets an advertisement about the university. So we help market the university. We’re a rallying point for the alums." Spear went on to mention a study done by a UI economics professor that showed the athletic department has a $34 million economic impact every year on Moscow, largely because of the money spent by visiting teams and fans that come for games. He also mentioned the internship opportunities the department gives to students, the chance for the band to "showcase their talents" at games -- and lastly, the political goodwill in the state that athletics engenders (on this point, he mentioned Boise State's Fiesta Bowl victory and the state Board of Education).

-- The crux of the issue, Spear said: "We have to have a balanced budget, and unfortunately, we put it on the backs of football."

-- Spear also talked about the chance in the past to do home-and-home series with BCS conference teams. He said he prefers to play "one-off" games on the road because they pay more, and he doesn't have to pay a return guarantee to any team that comes to Moscow. "The philosophy is we have opportunities to do a home-and-home with Wake Forest, do a home-and-home with Kansas State and opportunities to do a home-and-home with other schools. What you do is you swap out game guarantees.

"So to me, if I’m going to bring in a BCS team in here, give $175,000 or $200,000 and then I have to return the game next year and get $200,000. Well, financially that means I’ve got to go play two more of those. So essentially I would have to three BCS games, and that makes no sense. If you’re going to play one of those, financially it makes sense to play it on the road. So at least you get paid; you’re one-and-done and they pay you a little bit more."

-- One last note: Spear said the Florida State contracts calls for Idaho to get paid a lump sum of $950,000 on or before Feb. 15, 2014. "So if you’re a good cash management person, you’re probably going to send that check the 14th of February, right? They’re going to hold on to their cash as long as they can."

For more Idaho coverage, follow me on Twitter (@SR_JoshWright).


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