Carolina raised more money for athletics from private donors — $51 million — than any other school in the country last year, according to research by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
But University officials say UNC is an exception to the trend that was the point of the Chronicle‘s study: that athletics giving is increasing as a percentage of total donations at many schools.
Citing figures reported by the schools to the Council for Aid to Education and published in the Journal of Sports Management, the Chronicle said that in 1998 athletics donations accounted for 14.7 percent of all private giving and that by 2003 that percentage had risen to 26.
Athletics gifts have averaged at 11 percent of total gifts to the University since 2000, which, as Chancellor James Moeser wrote in a letter to The Chronicle‘s editors, “is considerably less than the 14.7 percent share your survey revealed to be the average in 1998, before — seemingly in your view — athletics vs. academic fundraising began to grow out of balance.
“To imply that our support for athletics comes at the cost of support for academics at UNC is simply wrong,” Moeser wrote.
Furthermore, athletics officials said, the $51 million was not actual money in hand but also represented pledges and planned gifts. “You would draw the conclusion from the article that we’ve got it in the bank, and that’s not the case,” Athletics Director Dick Baddour ’66 told the Faculty Council in a meeting Oct. 5, as reported by The News & Observer.
All this is not to say, though, that officials are not happy about the spike in athletics donations this year. Rams Club President John Montgomery said the club’s goal for last fiscal year was $31.5 million, so he called the $51 million a “pleasant surprise.” Montgomery said capital campaigns — especially the ones for the Boshamer baseball stadium and the Ernie Williamson Athletics Center — reaped a significant amount. The Rams Club also made an extra effort to raise funds after head football Coach Butch Davis was hired.
“The giving was very strong on capital projects, and that did surprise us,” Montgomery said. “We also had some other endowment gifts given to specific programs. Those are gifts that you work on over time. You don’t know when they’re going to give the gift, and you don’t know the amount.”
“Last year, 27 athletics programs raised more than $20 million each. … Ten programs brought in more than $30 million each,” the Chronicle reported.
“Growth in new facilities has fueled much of the increase,” it continued. “Between 2002 and 2007, colleges in the nation’s six premier athletics conferences raised more than $3.8 billion for capital expenditures alone.”
The other schools in the top five in total fundraising for athletics in 2006 are the University of Virginia, Ohio State University, The University of Florida and the University of Georgia.
The Chronicle article claimed that while athletics donations at major universities are growing, “overall giving to these colleges has stayed relatively flat.” But administrators say that has not been the case at UNC — donations to the general fund have been increasing steadily since 2003, and, in February, the Carolina First Campaign exceeded its $2 billion fundraising goal. The campaign extends through Dec. 31.
The Chronicle article went on to argue that increasing donations to athletics programs have caused “frayed relations among fundraisers who are soliciting the same donors.” That point is dubious, said Hodding Carter III, a UNC public policy professor and former president of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.
“The big athletic donors are en masse — not in specific cases, but en masse — not those who give large moneys to the academic ones,” Carter said. “The guy who thinks the best thing he’s got going for him is box seats at a basketball game is not the same person who thinks the new physics lab is a major imperative.”
Carter said he was concerned about growing expenditures on athletics programs across the nation. He said there was a danger of athletics programs overreaching their donor base and being forced to dip into funds reserved for academic programs.
“This insane arms race in the big time athletic programs is building toward an expense side, which you can’t sustain,” Carter said. “People will then start saying, ‘Let’s take it out of what’s less important.’ ”
Montgomery said the Rams Club is not expecting this year to top last year’s donations.
“We don’t anticipate this coming fiscal year to be like the one we just had,” he said. We don’t have as many special projects. We’ll have a strong year, but nothing like we had last year.”