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Counting every penny:
1914-15 football finances

In a century's time, virtually everything about Nebraska football has become bigger and bigger — the players, the fan base, the facilities and, of course, the budgets. But even back in the day when annual football revenues totaled a mere $25,000, football already was NU athletics’ cash cow.

The accompanying Lincoln Star article (click image at left) describes the balance sheet for the 1914-1915 athletic year. Football was the only sport to finish in the black, and the $3,630 profit on the gridiron was very nearly enough to offset the deficits elsewhere. NU athletics amounted to a roughly $29,000 enterprise that finished the year $282 in the red.

From our modern-day vantage point of $75 million athletic department budgets, these figures from the past seem quaint. And that’s true even after multiplying them by about 21½ to account for inflation. Yes, back then, a nickel had more buying power than the present-day dollar, but that $29,000 athletics budget still translates to only about $625,000 today.

The Star’s report also includes these nuggets:

Football gate receipts fluctuated wildly, with games against less-prestigious opponents sometimes generating only a few hundred dollars. (“Home sellout streak” presumably was not yet part of the lexicon.)

How big was that Kansas game? The $9,714 in gate receipts equaled a third of the entire athletics budget.

Basketball came close to breaking even (and today it is the only profitable program besides football).

Track ran up the biggest deficit ($719) and was the only sport other than football to top $2,000 in expenses.

The total outlay for coaching was $1,900. In today’s dollars, that’s about $41,000.

Spending on capital improvements was $523 ($11,250 in current dollars).

The article came out during the 1915 football season, when Hall of Famer Guy Chamberlin was leading the Huskers to a perfect record. The last paragraph breaks away from financial matters and discusses coach Jumbo Stiehm’s plans to rest his starters in the upcoming game against Nebraska Wesleyan.

— J. Hudson, March 8, 2010

NOTE: Like all U.S. newspaper content published before 1923, the Star’s article is in the public domain. The PDF was produced by running OCR software on a microfilm image of the original article. Any suspicious-looking numbers or letters were checked, but a few of the figures for cents were unclear and may be incorrect ($22.59 vs. $22.50, for example). The PDF document uses computer fonts and thus has none of the blots, crease marks, smudges, etc., of the original. The actual article looks like the thumbnail image at upper left, and it appears in one unbroken column rather than two legs of text.