Gophers AD Mark Coyle talks Big Ten expansion, media deal, ‘clunky’ NIL situation

Minnesota Golden Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle looks on in the second quarter during the game against the Georgia Southern Eagles at TCF Bank Stadium on September 14, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  ((Photo by David Berding/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images))

As the University of Minnesota football team gets ready to open its 2022 regular season Thursday night at Huntington Bank Stadium, Mark Coyle met with reporters late last week.

The past two years have been a rollercoaster ride for the Gophers’ athletic director, now entering his seventh year. Facing the possibility of losing as much as $75 million in revenue two years ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Coyle faced the difficult decision of eliminating sports, positions within the athletic department and asking coaches to take pay cuts to offset the damage.

Everything changed in the last six weeks. The Big Ten announced that UCLA and USC are joining the conference in two years. Now, the league has a new seven-year, $7 billion media rights deal to broadcast games on Fox, NBC, CBS and Peacock, NBC’s streaming service.

Coyle was asked last Friday about USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten.

"I think it’s good for the Big Ten. It’s exciting for our conference, our student athletes and as Commissioner (Kevin) Warren said, it takes our conference coast to coast now, which is great exposure for the great institutions of the Big Ten," Coyle said.

As for the new media deal, it helps the Gophers and other Big Ten departments recover some of the financial losses from two years ago. The league is expected to distribute between $80 and $100 million per year to its 16 member schools.

Minnesota, like most athletic departments, has a revenue stream that includes ticket sales, fundraising, media review and licensing agreements.

Coyle said they still have a $21.5 million loan from the University to pay back after financial difficulties suffered during the pandemic.

"It’s obvious that these media deals are important. If you look at any athletic department, we all have very similar revenue streams," Coyle said. "That’s why this new media deal is a big part of our program as we move forward."

Coyle also talked about name, image and likeness and how it impacts only current Gophers’ student athletes, but also recruiting. A little more than a year ago, the NCAA passed a measure allowing athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness. That includes high school athletes who are committing to colleges with endorsements as part of the process.

Recently, the Twin Cities NIL Club and Dinkytown Athletes launched web sites that feature programs that allow for donations, which specifically go to be distributed between athletes. The Twin Cities NIL Club is specific to football players, and gives fans access to exclusive tailgates and social media content.

Coyle said among the school’s 22 athletic programs, they have about 585 athletes. He said more than 130 of them, or about 22 percent, have NIL deals. More than 260 NIL deals exist within the entire athletic department.

Coyle gave one word to describe NIL as it continues to evolve: Clunky. But his message is consistent: Do it the right way.

"As we approach NIL as an institution at the University of Minnesota, even though we don’t have a lot of guard rails nationally, we want to make sure we make the best long-term decisions for our student athletes and programs," Coyle said. "It continues to grow and be an important part of the recruiting cycle. I give our coaches a lot of credit, they want to make sure we do it the right way and get the right kids to come to our program."