In the world of big-time collegiate athletics, individual donors are sometimes the key to success.
Someone that's willing to underwrite whatever is needed for your program to succeed. T. Boone Pickens has given around $500 million to Oklahoma State, about half of it to Athletics. Phil Knight has dropped $300 million on Oregon, and you can see that success across all sports. Drayton McLane Jr. pumped somewhere between $20 and $200 million into the Baylor Bears, and now their facilities are the envy of the nation.
FedEx is offering to buy the rights to the Big XII Championship Game themselves, and Memphis university president is promising $500 million worth of upgrades across all departments.
And for a department as in as much financial peril as USF, one that desperately needs a capital infusion to help stabilize the ship, the Bulls need a Sugar Daddy, plain and simple.
As Mark Harlan's five-year strategic plan presentation to the Board of Trustees last week indicated, the teams are very competitive in many areas. They did a "SWOT" analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats for those of you in non-buzzword fields), and it looked like this:
The strengths are absolutely there. We're doing a pretty good job across all sports, and a great job academically for our student-athletes. The facilities are very good as compared to peer schools (and OCS isn't an issue for any other conference). But look at the real issues:
* Donor investment
* Declining conference revenue
* Stagnant budget growth
And this ain't changing unless some big checks start coming in the door.
USF has turned over its athletics development people in spades over the past few years for many reasons. But they all are linked by the following problem, which is someone needs to come in and write a massive check for sports, and get out of the way. And not deferred cash either; they need operating capital.
Money is certainly coming into USF. Lynn Pippinger just gave $5 million to USF St. Pete, which follows a $10 million gift by Kate Tiedemann. The Morsani College of Medicine was a $20 million gift from the same guy that made the Frank Morsani Football Complex happen. The Muma College of Business was a $25 million gift from the same couple that named the Pam and Les Muma Basketball Center. Board of Trustees member Jordan Zimmerman named the school of advertising for $10 million.
To be noted: we don't have these gift agreements in front of us. Major gifts like this tend to be paid out over many years, so it's not like the school just gets a check. Also from what we've heard and absolutely can't confirm, some of these are deferred gifts, which means the school receives payment upon the passing of those that made it.
These are all good things, and the academic mission of the school will always be more important than the athletic. But if USF is going to compete at the highest levels and get where they want to go, a monstrous lead gift to the Bulls might be necessary. It is often said by many in university administration that athletics are "the front door of the institution." Well that front door needs a new knocker and some high-end trimming if it's going to the Big XII. As Harlan himself said during his presentation, this will be the third straight year USF Athletics won't "advance their budget."
It's only going to get worse as well. Cost of attendance scholarships were already an issue, and now new federal rules on overtime-exempt employees that begin December 1st means USF is either going to have to step up and pay a lot of staff and coaches over $47,500 a year, or start making people work 40 hours a week or less. Good luck getting the work you need done by trainers, coaches, and SID's if they're only allowed in their offices from 9 to 5. These people work 70 and 80 hour weeks frequently.
I'm not sure who this Sugar Daddy would be. People give their money for many reasons, and you can't put a gun to anyone's head and say "give all your money to sports!" when they might feel a personal tie to another department. But liquid, spendable cash in the door needs to be the priority here. And something starting with a crooked number and having seven figures after it would help.
Rebuilding fractured relationships needs to be a part of it too. Someone that had made a very large gift to USF previously told me off the record that they wouldn't give another dime to USF while Doug Woolard and Judy Genshaft were in charge. They talked about poor follow-up after that check was written, and a general lack of leadership and direction. Their ire seemed much more directed at Woolard than Genshaft, but it was palpable.
There's always going to be pissed off donors. They're as much a part of a college as dorm rooms and free condoms. But under Mark Harlan, there's an opportunity to rebuild those relationships and bring them back into the fold.
The problem in comparing USF to many other institutions is the youth of the school. Not enough people have graduated from the institution to build those generational tie-ins that make super-major gifts happen. But at this point, that can't be an excuse. Someone (or a coalition working together) has to step up and write the check, or USF very well might continue to sit in Group of Five Purgatory.
Any future stadium will have naming rights attached, and there's still the Sun Dome available as well. There are lots of corporate opportunities out there. But USF needs some private money. Now. Straight cash, homey.