The accommodations before the Longhorns’ home opener were fit for a high-rolling Texas ex.
A custom buffet for $79. And if the all-you-can-eat spread wasn’t enough, there was a $20 snack later that night. Around midnight, when the hunger pangs struck again, the hotel came through with a $24 “late snack.”
The next morning, for $36, the eggs came every way. That was followed by a pregame lunch for $29.
But these weren’t fans at the Omni Austin Hotel at Southpark the night before Texas opened its season against North Texas. It was the 120 or so Texas football players.
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The total bill for a stay a little more than 51/2 miles from Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium: $39,000.
Hotel stays before home games have been a college football staple for more than 40 years as coaches try to keep players focused and away from the distractions of visitors and friends who might want to stay out late on a weekend night.
The tradition has also been debated for years as universities struggle to pay for the escalating costs of athletic programs, said Amy Perko, the executive director of the Knight Commission, which was formed in the 1980s to recommend reforms that emphasize academic values.
“The bottom line is that football expenses per player are growing twice as fast as spending on other sports and seven times faster than the growth rate in academic spending per student,” Perko said.
FBS schools spent $14,350 per student on academics in 2012, but $115,600 on football for each player, according to the commission. Spending on athletics grew 71 percent between 2005 and 2012 but only 30 percent on academics.
For the Longhorns, the stay at the Omni barely registers on its budget. Its athletic department cleared $15 million on $161 million in revenues from September 2013 through August 2014, according to the Department of Education.
But Texas is one of only a few universities to see a return on its athletics investments. Of 230 schools listed in a USA Today database on NCAA finances, 210 broke even or lost money on athletics in 2013.
Most athletic departments, such as those at North Texas and Texas Tech, subsidize expenses with funds from their university. Only seven athletic departments, including Texas’, did not receive a subsidy from their university.
Coaches and players extol the importance of ensuring teams are properly rested and focused.
Football, though, is the only sport where players routinely hole up in a hotel before a home game.
At first thought, it may not seem like such a money drain, but the total hotel receipts for six home games this season would nearly cover North Texas’ $120,000 loss on last year’s books. The university spent $17 million to subsidize its athletic department in 2013.
The announcement Tuesday that Alabama-Birmingham is terminating its football program, the first FBS school in nearly 20 years to do so, is a chilling reminder for some that athletics spending has become unmanageable.
For North Texas, six nights at the Marriott Hotel and Golf Club at Champions Circle near Texas Motor Speedway totaled $105,000. That’s more than $17,000 each night.
Grant Teaff, the longtime Baylor coach and the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association for the past 20 years, said the hotel stays are the best way to make certain that players are properly prepared.
“It’s all about mental preparation and the ability to sleep and rest and concentrate on the things they need to concentrate on and you know where they are,” Teaff said. “You can’t allow guys who are going to play a hard football game the next day to be in a dormitory where on Friday nights they never go to bed.”
Former Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum said the move to hotels for home games started when schools began eliminating athlete-only dorms. As an assistant coach at Kansas State in the early 1970s, Slocum said it became necessary because Manhattan became a zoo on game weekends.
“If you don’t have them sequestered somewhere their friends are coming over and one thing that’s as bad as any is their relatives,” Slocum said. “They come to town with a couple carloads of relatives, and they come over and the poor kid can’t kick his family out of his dorm room or his apartment.”
Not only does the hotel stay ensure a good night’s sleep, but the night allows for team meetings, a team dinner and team bonding.
“That’s really what the motivation behind it is,” North Texas coach Dan McCarney said. “I really look forward to it, the players do, too. My assistants get my players up on Saturday morning, open the curtains, rise and shine, get your butt out of bed, and let’s go, let’s roll. It’s part of the tradition now and we’ve been doing it for a long time.”
McCarney said the hotel doesn’t need to be the Ritz-Carlton, either.
“We won a national championship at Florida and it wasn’t the fanciest, nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in, that’s for sure,” he said. “But it was convenient, it was practical, it was functional and it was close by the Swamp and that’s why we stayed there.”
Most teams schedule a movie for the team to watch together at the hotel. Hotels, such as the Omni in Austin, can charge a premium for the audio/video setup. For Texas, it was $6,600.
Teams typically have player committees or captains decide what film to watch the night before a game. But the head coach usually holds veto power.
When McCarney was an assistant for Hayden Fry at Iowa, the film options were minimal.
“Honest to God, I think we might’ve watched Walking Tall 18 or 20 times,” McCarney said. “We went to eight straight bowl games in a row. In his mind it was helping us win, so we watched that a bunch of times. But there was never any time when anybody wanted to watch a love story the night before a game.”
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760
Home close to home
The hotel and meal expenses for four state schools before each of their first home games in 2014:
Put it on my tab
Some of the various costs the University of Texas football team incurred during its one-night stay before its first home game this season at the Omni Austin Hotel at Southpark:
▪ Audio/visual set up: $6,574.80
▪ Banquet rooms: $24,581.17
▪ Total conference room charges: $917.80
▪ Conference Center Projector Package: $475
▪ Document camera: $200
▪ VGA Switcher: $35
▪ Whiteboard package with dry erase markers and an eraser: $45
▪ Second conference: $1,033.70
▪ Executive screen projector package: $495
▪ DVD player: $75
▪ Dual 10-foot executive screen projector package: $1,335.90, including $50 for audio patch
(Both screens provided to broadcast sports networks during meals)
Let’s eat ... and eat
▪ Friday custom dinner buffet: $11,565.60 ($79/person)
▪ Saturday kickoff breakfast: $5,270.40 ($36/person)
▪ Saturday 3 p.m. pregame meal: $4,245.60 ($29/person)
▪ Early snack: $19.90/person
▪ Late snack: $24/person
▪ Total snacks: $3,284.85
Tea of coffee?
▪ Two gallons of Starbucks: $120
▪ Decaf Starbucks and tea: $56