Athletics department has received more than its goal

More than $2.7 million in written and verbal pledges have come in, but only signed pledge cards are being counted.

by Ben Goessling

With five days left before the Feb. 1 deadline, Minnesota’s athletics department will likely raise the $2.7 million it needs to save the men’s and women’s golf and men’s gymnastics programs.

Athletics director Joel Maturi said Monday the department still has just under $100,000 left to raise but added verbal pledges could push the drive past its goal.

“I’m not nervous about getting there,” Maturi said. “We have other people who said they will help.”

A news conference announcing the drive’s success will likely be held late this week, but Maturi said it could come as early as Tuesday or Wednesday.

The department has received more than $2.7 million in written and verbal pledges but is only counting signed pledge cards toward its final total.

Maturi said the fundraising drive received a boost at last weekend’s men’s gymnastics meet against Illinois. The team celebrated its 100th anniversary at the meet, and the occasion prompted several donors to follow through on verbal pledges.

According to three-time Olympian John Roethlisberger, a five-time national champion for Minnesota’s men’s gymnastics team from 1990-93 and a member of the Save Gopher Sports fundraising group, last weekend’s festivities could provide an even greater aid toward saving the three sports over the next few days.

The weekend included a banquet last Friday night featuring Gophers gymnasts from as far back as the 1920s, and the program was honored at last Saturday’s men’s basketball game against Northwestern.

“Several people did come up to me and said they wanted to donate,” Roethlisberger said. “I believe we will get some more money coming in. We definitely got people off their wallet a little bit.

“When you’ve got 93-year-old Horace Greenberg (the 1930 Big Ten tumbling champion) out on the court at the men’s basketball game, it can’t do anything but help.”

Maturi said the department’s strategy for this week will consist mainly of following up with donors who have verbally pledged support toward the drive.

Donors have until June 30, 2004, to pay their pledges in full.

“Now isn’t a time to knock on any new doors,” he said. “We’re trusting that the people who said they will give will follow through, and it’s just a matter of reminding them.”

The three sports were targeted for elimination by former University president Mark Yudof on April 11, 2002, in a cost-cutting move.

Donors raised $900,000 to keep the three teams in existence through this season, and $2.7 million would support the teams through 2005.

Ben Goessling welcomes comments at [email protected]