Indiana Daily Student

Varsity Club sees donor increase

Organization maintains support of athletics despite Knight absence

When Bob Knight left IU at the end of his 28th year as men's basketball coach, many thought IU's athletic donors would flee town after him.\nInstead, the IU Varsity Club -- the athletic department's fund-raising arm -- has seen more than a 4 percent increase in total income since Knight's last full year in Bloomington.\n"Sometimes change is healthy, and it's healthy on a number of different fronts," said Steve Uryasz, Texas Tech's senior associate athletics director, happy to have Knight in Lubbock, Texas, where Tech fund-raising is soaring.\nThe Varsity Club, which supports over 300 athletic scholarships and capital projects, such as stadium renovations or facility maintenance, saw its total income jump from $8.46 million in the 1999-2000 fiscal year to $8.8 million in 2000-2001.\nDavid Martin, executive director of the IU Varsity Club, realized donors would leave the program with Knight's dismissal, but thought his donor base -- 75 percent of which are IU graduates -- would remain supportive of IU Athletics.\nAnd with the institution of four new Varsity sports in the last five years, the donor base was vital to the Varsity Club's success, Martin said.\n"We knew there would be dropouts," Martin said. "We expected that. But we also expected new donors … and that's what we saw. We try to build a stable base which associates with IU, not an individual."\nThe Varsity Club received donations from 13,579 individuals for the 2000-01 fiscal year, the second largest donor base in the Big Ten Conference.\nCarol Thoren, donor relations coordinator for the Varsity Club, is proud that the large base maintained its support of Hoosier athletes despite the firing of IU's most popular sports figure.\nThoren expects that group of alumni to continue to grow as the athletic department begins a new chapter under new Athletics Director Michael McNeely.\n"When we go to the Big Ten fundraisers and compare notes, we are always amazed because IU is not a big corporate state," said Thoren, adding other schools, like Ohio State receive a large portion of its donations from Columbus, Ohio-area corporations. "Our donors are not loyal to one person, they're loyal to an idea, a University."\nDonors are attracted to the Varsity Club primarily by a point system, which rewards donations with preferential seating and tickets to athletic events. Donors accrue points based on their loyalty to IU Athletics and the amount of their donations.\nIn the early 1980s, IU was one of the first universities to employ such a system to entice athletic donations. Since then, the point system has become a part of most Division-I athletic programs, Martin said.\n"A lot of the Big Ten thought we were crazy, now they've adopted it," Martin said. "Most of them are all going to some point system. And not just the Big Ten, this is nationwide."\nIU Varsity Club income peaked in 1997-98 when the group pulled in over $9.4 million in contributions. That money went, in large part, to help with the renovations to Memorial Stadium, changing the playing surface from artificial turf to natural grass.\nThe Varsity Club is ready to begin another donation drive to build stands on the North Side of Bill Armstrong Stadium. Those capital projects tend to distort annual donor income, Martin said.

The General's 'War Chest' \nWhile IU has seen marginal increases since Knight's firing, Texas Tech has been hugely successful in turning Knight's powerful name recognition into scholarship dollars.\nThe Red Raider Club -- Tech's version of the Varsity Club -- has bolstered donation receipts since Knight's hiring last spring.\n"We've seen a significant increase in donations over the last six months," said Uryasz, unable to put an exact dollar figure on Knight's arrival. \nTech also started a Student Red Raider Club for current Tech students in February. Uryasz said the student group expects to have 6,000 members by late fall, the largest of any such student group.\nUryasz has been able to market Knight with women's basketball coach Marsha Sharp to attract potential donors. The two are a part of a small list of schools that have national championship winners as coaches from both men's and women's basketball programs.\nThe response to the team has been extraordinary, Uryasz said.\n"In Houston, in June, we had in excess of 800 people at an event, and the following evening, we had 1,175 for a fundraiser for the Red Raider Club in Dallas," Uryasz said. "The reception has been phenomenal.\n"The bottom line is the arrival of Coach Knight has had a great impact on the Red Raider Club"

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