Fund-raising effort surpasses goal to save three squads

Ben Goessling

Applauding a “grassroots volunteer effort” while casting a cautious eye toward the future, University President Robert Bruininks announced Thursday the athletics department raised the requisite $2.7 million to save its men’s gymnastics and men’s and women’s golf teams from elimination.

The work of the Save Gopher Sports campaign will keep the teams fully supported through 2005. The three programs would have been dropped July 1 if the money had not been raised by Saturday.

Approximately 1,700 people donated to the drive.

Bruininks said the campaign to save the three sports surpassed its goal, set last spring by former University President Mark Yudof, by $100,000. The extra money will likely be used to start an athletics scholarship endowment fund.

“I’m delighted to report the sports are saved,” Bruininks said. “This clearly turned into a tremendous positive for our (athletics) department, and it awakened the need for people to step forward and donate.”

Both Bruininks and Athletics Director Joel Maturi talked at length about the need to endow athletics scholarships, a process which will begin immediately.

Save Gopher Sports will remain intact to head a scholarship drive.

“I’m aware of the state’s financial condition, but our goal is to have no more campaigns to save sports,” Maturi said.

Men’s golf coach Brad James acknowledged the difficulty of endowing the University’s athletics scholarships, but he pointed to the department’s innovative fund raising, which included a telethon in December, as proof the endowment drive can succeed.

“We created a model and showed a lot of people that you can raise money just by going up and asking,” he said. “This drive created a lot of momentum, and now we just have to keep that going.”

Uphill battle ahead

Maturi said Thursday his goal is to endow as many athletics scholarships as possible within the next five years. It costs approximately $250,000 to endow one scholarship.

Once a scholarship is endowed, the principal payment is deposited and the interest (approximately $12,500 per year) is used to fund the athlete’s education.

Minnesota’s athletics scholarship endowment for 1999-2000 was $11 million, about half the Big Ten average and $29 million behind Michigan, the conference leader.

Save Gopher Sports co-chairman Harvey Mackay and local automobile dealer Denny Hecker have each endowed a golf scholarship. The interest from those endowments was counted toward the $2.7 million goal.

The state’s $356 million budget deficit for 2003 and the proposed $25 million funding reduction for the University will also take a heavy toll on the athletics department.

Maturi said intercollegiate athletics received an $8.3 million subsidy from the University this fiscal year – a number that could be slashed by as much as $2 million when the new budget takes effect in July.

“With the rising costs of tuition, I might have to raise $2.5 million this year just to stay where we’re at now,” Maturi said. “We spend so much time paying the bills that we haven’t been able to put away any money for scholarships.”

Both Maturi and Bruininks discussed the importance of new ways to save money and generate revenue, citing major programs designed to relieve the department’s financial woes.

Maturi is planning major departmental changes by July, a result of the athletics department’s merger of its separate men’s and women’s departments last year.

Since the merger left the department with two of everything, Maturi must now reorganize his staff to cut costs.

“There’s a lot of anxiety inter-

nally because we’re just trying to figure out if we really need as many people as we have,” he said.

Senior associate athletics director Jeff Schemmel announced last week he will leave Minnesota to become Arizona State’s executive director of development, and Maturi said Schemmel might not be replaced.

“We don’t have anyone with Jeff’s experience, but we do have enough bodies to do the job,” he said.

Football’s role

Bruininks said the University is funding a major marketing study on how to increase the football program’s revenue – the most obvious solution to the athletics department’s troubles.

Gophers football grossed $11.7 million in 2001-02, less than a fourth of Big Ten leader Ohio State’s $47 million in revenues. The team averaged 41,785 fans per home game this year, compared with 103,488 for Buckeyes home games.

“We want to know what the community wants to see from the football team, what would get people in the stands,” Bruininks said. “Increasing football revenue is of the highest priority.”

But until that happens, Minnesota will stick to the model it used to pull off one of the most improbable fundraising drives in the history of college athletics: old-fashioned philanthropy.

“There are so many people out there that just have never been asked (to donate),” James said. “It’s going to be difficult, but there are so many people that believe in maroon and gold.”

Ben Goessling welcomes comments at [email protected]