Donations flowing in for Mountaineers
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Amid the stormiest month in West Virginia football history, donations to the Mountaineer Athletic Club have risen to record levels.
Despite December's troubled surface, with coach Rich Rodriguez seemingly jilting his alma mater and home state for Michigan, a group of prominent boosters withdrawing pledges over how university administrators handled the former coach's final days, a fits-and-spurts search for his replacement, and then the surprising anointment of Bill Stewart the day after a stirring Fiesta Bowl triumph, its detrimental affect on pledges was greatly exaggerated, said West Virginia's point man for fund-raising.
In fact, it was a record December for giving and the first-half jump-start to what looks to be a record 2007-08 fiscal year, said MAC executive director and West Virginia assistant athletic director Larry Aschebrook.
"We're definitely doing better than we ever had been," Aschebrook said, declining to cite specifics.
"We had the best December ever, and anticipate it to go that way [in the fiscal year ending June 30]. You know what, we're having a great year in contributions and support. We're very optimistic and excited about this year and years to come.
"Obviously, anytime there's a change, change is sometimes difficult. It's important for our donors and our fans to focus on the betterment of our student-athlete, and, ultimately, I think that's what they've done."
So, a month after Rodriguez's departure, the booster side might not be gloomy after all.
Month-by-month figures were unavailable, but the MAC -- an arm of the WVU Foundation housed in the athletic department -- reported a record $13.8 million in donations and 7,155 donors for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2007.
This past December likely spiked much higher because many, if not most, boosters make their donations by Dec. 31 for tax purposes.
It also wasn't known how December 2006 affected accounting, because several boosters pledged millions for the contract that kept Rodriguez from going to Alabama.
Yet December 2007 donations apparently increased by almost as much as 50 percent, one source said.
And Aschebrook acknowledged, without elaborating, that January 2008 donations also are up significantly.
"Yeah, wins like that make our jobs easier in the fund-raising business," Aschebrook said of the 48-28 Fiesta Bowl upset of Oklahoma Jan. 2 and the appointment the next day of the player-favored Stewart. "It's been a great momentum keeper.
"Our goals have risen. We're going to continue to raise as much money as we possibly can to provide all our coaches the means necessary to be successful. We have great donors and great fans in the state of West Virginia ... and there's not another state in the country like it. "
Ken Kendrick, the Arizona Diamondbacks managing general partner and the most outspoken booster critic of the athletic department leadership, said he was glad to hear the MAC and Aschebrook were so successful.
Yet he remains among at least a half-dozen prominent donors who say they refuse to donate further to the athletic administration as presently constituted.
Kendrick met with R. Wayne King, the WVU Foundation president, before the Fiesta Bowl and handed him a $1.1 million donation for academics -- not athletics -- as a way to cover the expenses the university had to pay for 7,000-plus bowl tickets unsold among the Mountaineers' allotment.
Kendrick withdrew one pledge because it was contractually specified to go toward Rodriguez's deal. However, Aschebrook said, to his knowledge "we haven't had any [other] people walking away from their pledges."
Bob Reynolds is the former Chief Operating Officer of Fidelity Investments and another outspoken critic who, along with Kendrick, pulled $12 million in university-wide pledges in the days after Rodriguez departed over being declined program upgrades that were previously discussed with administrators and, to these donors' way of thinking, easily met.
Still, Aschebrook said, "Mr. Reynolds has continued to be supportive of us and our ventures here in the Athletic Club. And Mr. Kendrick ... ultimately it's every donor's dollar and their decision to spend their dollar."
Aschebrook noted how football projects, many of them guaranteed in Rodriguez's last contract, are complete or on track. The $2 million academic center and $500,000 club-level seating are done. Twenty-three luxury boxes/suites are all sold.
An enhancement fund for football is subsidized to $3 million. And the locker-room reconstruction also is under way and paid for by private donations.
"We're still committed to having a top football program in the country," Aschebrook said.
Raising money for scholarships, recruiting and more, "that was more than just a coach-driven philosophy; that's coming from the department."
First Published January 18, 2008 12:00 am