During its first year in the Big Ten, Maryland was paid more conference dollars than any other school and almost double the league's payout to Nebraska.
Maryland received a total conference distribution of $36.1 million during the 2014-15 school year, according to figures obtained by The World-Herald. That compared to the $32 million standard payout of most league schools and the $18.7 million paid to Nebraska.
Some $11.6 million of Maryland's dollars were an advance on future payments, intended to help Maryland make good on the $31 million penalty it owed for leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Still, the $24.5 million base payment to Maryland during its first year in the league was well above what Nebraska received that same year, which was the school's fourth in the Big Ten.
Despite that discrepancy, Big Ten officials say the basic financial terms on which Nebraska, Maryland and other league newcomer Rutgers joined the Big Ten were essentially the same. Rutgers received roughly $10 million in its first year in the league last year. And University of Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman said he does not believe his school is being treated unfairly. The differences, he said, can be traced to the disparate positions the schools were in at the time they negotiated their entries into the league.
In 2010, Nebraska was fleeing a Big 12 that appeared to be imploding, he said. Conversely, Maryland in 2013 was being actively courted by the Big Ten, which was eager to get into the Eastern television markets that Maryland and Rutgers represented.
"There was a considerable difference in negotiating leverage between Nebraska and Maryland," Perlman said. "While we brought a better athletic reputation, they brought considerably more financial opportunity for the conference — opportunity that Nebraska will share in the years ahead."
Indeed, Nebraska is now well on its way to a B1G payday.
In less than 18 months, Nebraska will become fully invested in the league financially, staking a one-twelfth ownership in the league's lucrative TV network and eligible for annual conference payouts that by then could easily exceed $40 million.
It was known at the time Maryland joined the Big Ten that the school had received a sweetened, front-loaded deal. Published reports put the initial payment at $32 million.
However, in response to a public records request from The World-Herald, the university last week for the first time revealed its actual first-year payment. It also revealed how much of the payment was considered an advance, dollars the school will ultimately have to pay back through reduced payments in later years.
Not only is the $36 million the largest payment to any Big Ten school, it also appears by far to be the largest payment a school has ever received from a league. That's largely because no other league rewards its members like the Big Ten.
Federal tax filings for 2013-14, the most recent available for all five of college football's power conferences, show the Big Ten offered standard shares to its longtime members that year of $28 million. All the other four major conferences offered top payments of about $21 million.
Though the discrepancy in dollars between Maryland and Nebraska is sure to have some Husker fans grumbling, especially given Nebraska's longer tenure in the league, Big Ten Deputy Commissioner Brad Traviolia defended the distributions.
Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers were all given six-year terms to transition to a full Big Ten share. Payments from the league were then set at what the schools were projected to receive from their old leagues during those years at the time of negotiations — 2010 for Nebraska and 2013 for Maryland and Rutgers.
Nebraska's $14 million payment during 2011-12, its first in the Big Ten, was based on what it had been expected to receive from the Big 12 in that year.
Likewise, Maryland's $24.5 million base payment for 201415 was based on what it was projected to receive from the ACC that year.
Rutgers was coming out of the lower-tier American Athletic Conference, the reason for its low-ball Big Ten payment. The school did not release its first-year payment figure last week, but Traviolia put it at about $10 million.
Public documents show Nebraska's payments have gradually ramped up: to $15.4 million in year two, then $16.9 million, $18.7 million and about $22 million for the current year.
Those transition-year payments were not adjusted even though, as it turned out, Big 12 members have actually received larger payments than were projected back in 2010.
The Big 12 negotiated a new TV deal after Nebraska's departure that was somewhat more lucrative than had been expected. Additionally, Big 12 payments have grown higher simply because the league has fewer schools sharing the dollars. League tax filings show only eight Big 12 schools in recent years received full shares, with West Virginia and TCU both receiving lesser payments as new league members.
Traviolia said terms for entering schools do not call for adjusting payments even if actual payouts in their old leagues turn out to be different.
"It was based on what the Big 12 was projected to pay at the time we negotiated," Traviolia said of Nebraska's payments.
The Big Ten did adjust Nebraska's payout over the last two years to take into account the new College Football Playoff, the main reason payments to Nebraska have spiked more than $5 million over those years. Nebraska would have received that bump as either a member of the Big 12 or Big Ten, Traviolia said.
Far bigger rewards appear ahead for Nebraska beginning in July 2017, when the school becomes a fully vested member of the league. Not only will the school be eligible for a full share, the league will also be entering a new network television contract that year. Annual payments to league schools are expected to top $40 million, and some have suggested they could reach $50 million.
The Big Ten will soon enter a window of exclusive negotiations with its current TV rights holder, the ESPN cable network and network affiliate ABC. Some have suggested declining viewership on ESPN as consumers increasingly cut the cable could put a damper on the Big Ten's contract position. But Traviolia remains optimistic.
"We're very bullish," he said. "We think we will be very successful. We need to be successful. Our programs depend on this revenue for their broad sponsorship of sports."
It should be noted that Nebraska is a school that remains strongly positioned financially regardless of what it's receiving in conference dollars.
Its $100 million annual budget ranks in the top tier in the country, its facilities in all major sports rank among the nation's best, and it's one of few schools in the country that has three sports generating a profit: football, men's basketball and volleyball. It's also one of only a handful of schools that provides no tax, tuition or student fee subsidy to athletics.
Perlman expresses no misgivings about how Nebraska's transition is turning out, relative to Maryland, its former Big 12 partners or any other school.
Nebraska's entry into the Big Ten came at a time the Big 12 appeared to be falling apart, with as many as seven other members rumored to be leaving. In addition to Nebraska, three others did depart.
"There was a real risk that the Big 12 would disappear and that we would be without a major conference," Perlman said. "Certainly, the Big Ten understood that."
Not only was Maryland actively sought by the Big Ten, it was well-situated financially in the ACC and had to be compensated for the huge financial penalty it faced if it was going to leave. Under contract terms, the school owed a whopping $52 million penalty, ultimately negotiating it down to $31 million.
Perlman pointed out that when Nebraska begins receiving its full share in July 2017, its payments will far exceed those of Maryland, which will still be transitioning and still facing future repayment of the dollars it was advanced by the league.
"I am confident that the accounting completed at the end of Maryland's transition will show that Nebraska came out pretty well," Perlman said. "I don't get a lot of folks telling me they wish we were back in the Big 12."
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