By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – On Wednesday night, thousands of freshmen at the University of Minnesota listened to Head Football coach Jerry Kill and learned some Gopher chants to kick off the season.

Thursday night marks the first game for Minnesota  – 8 p.m. at TCF Bank Stadium against TCU.

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So, how important is football to a college? Good Question.

This answer can vary widely from college to college, but very few institutions of higher education make money on their football programs.

According to U of M sports finance professor Rayla Allison, only 30 or so of the more than 1,200 NCAA schools have football programs that break even.

Even fewer, around 20, have football programs that make enough to cover the rest of that school’s athletic department.

“All of the other programs are in the red,” she said. “They’re subsidized through internal transfer from university or through student activity fees.”

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In 2013, the Gopher football team spent $28 million, but brought in $40 million. Allison says that profit of $12 million went back into the athletic department. Much of that revenue came from ticket sales, Big Ten, branding and donations.

But she points out there’s more to a football program than the money it might bring in.

“The importance is not just financial,” she said.

Media attention can attract more donors and sponsors and even interest from prospective students.

One U of M student said, “I would pick a school that had a better football program over a school that doesn’t have as good of a program as long as everything else was similar.”

Other students pointed to pride, a team they can rally around each fall and believing in something larger than themselves.

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“The reason we started college athletics wasn’t about creating revenues or as a marketing tool or for media contracts,” Allison said. “It is an extension of the education mission of the institution.”

Heather Brown