Red-White Spring Game, 4/15

Fans take pictures outside Memorial Stadium before the spring game on Saturday, April 15, 2017.

JAKE CRANDALL, Journal Star

Nebraska Athletics will provide $5 million in scholarships to nonathletes, potentially providing additional aid to hundreds of students each year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Chancellor Ronnie Green and Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst unveiled the Husker Scholars program Friday during a meeting of the NU Board of Regents. It will provide the first scholarships for incoming freshman in the 2018-19 school year.

As the university approaches its 150th anniversary, Green said administrators have been looking to the future, particularly how to serve more students attending the system's flagship university.

"We have on our minds a lot about how to continue the university and continuing to have that affordable access for students to come to us to get the highest quality education," he said.

While the details of the scholarship program, including the criteria for those who want to apply, are not yet finalized, Eichorst said the program is an extension of a growing partnership between the athletic department and academic units on campus.

"We've worked very hard and very strategically over the course of the last few years to build upon our great history and tradition and to strengthen our foundation for success -- particularly as it relates to our collaborations across the academic spectrum," Eichorst said. "It's been an important initiative for me from day one to ground and base everything we do in athletics in academics."

Eichorst said the scholarship is made possible through the loyal Husker fan base, which helped the department generate $112 million in revenue in 2015-16, easily outpacing overall expenses of $104 million.

Athletic department revenue is expected to continue growing as UNL receives full benefits as a member of the Big Ten Conference for the first time since joining the league in 2011.

TV deals between the Big Ten and networks like CBS, ESPN and Fox could net each athletic department an additional $50 million in revenue annually beginning in 2018.

Nebraska Athletics for years has sent money back to the campus as a whole without drawing from its resources.

"Very few athletic programs in this country receive no state subsidies, no university subsidies, no student fees," Eichorst said. "We operate in the black and we make a significant contribution back to the university because that is the right thing to do."

NU President Hank Bounds said if the $5 million were divided into full scholarships, more than 500 students would be able to attend college at little cost. Dividing it further could provide college aid to more than 1,000 students, which would elevate the degree attainment in Nebraska.

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"We've said time and time again that we will never cut our way to excellence, that we have to have more people with a degree, not less in this state," he said. "This is a hugely beneficial move by athletics."

Bounds said after the meeting the scholarship program was in the works for the last six months, even before regents considered the athletic department's $128 million, 11-year sponsorship deal with adidas approved on Friday.

Green cautioned not to draw a direct connection between the two.

Regent Hal Daub of Omaha called the scholarship program "a tremendous thing" that rewards fans for their loyalty and the money spent supporting Husker athletics.

"It's really good news and I think it should make us all want to support the program to an even larger extent than we have in the past," Daub said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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