Donations in College Sports, $1.2 Billion in 2015

College athletic departments raised over $1 billion from donors in 2015, according to a report by the Council for Aid to Education.

This exorbitant figure is eye-catching but nothing new, as donations for college sports have eclipsed $1 billion four times in the last five years. Institutions use this money to fund large projects, like stadium construction or renovation, and to increase finical aid packages.

Boosters have been especially generous to Texas A&M and Oregon, which raised $67 million and $53.7 million respectively in 2015. Over the last three years, Texas A&M has brought in a whopping $350 million to transform its football stadium, Kyle Field, into the largest in Texas and the SEC. Oregon has also used its bounty to make its athletic facilities the envy of every college program.

 Only top schools receive big donations for college sports

Texas A&M and Oregon may be meeting and exceeding fundraising goals, but the majority of programs are not rolling in dough. More than half of the $1.2 billion ($670 million) comes from just the top 20 athletic departments and only 25 schools reported annual contributions of over $20 million.

The disparity in donations puts the schools with smaller bankrolls at a major disadvantage because they cannot afford to pay for the top coaches or provide their players with the best facilities. Since teams with poor coaching and outdated stadiums generally struggle to win, and losing teams attract fewer donors, the poorer programs get trapped in a vicious cycle.

Donations don’t exactly guarantee championships on the field or on the court. Texas A&M and Oregon have plenty of cash, but they have been unable to bring home a national title in football or basketball.

 Donations for college sports are down

Despite the sensational $1.2 billion figure, donations were slightly less in 2015 than the previous year. Some people argue that donors are tired of footing the bill for excessive coaching salaries and pricey season tickets while others believe the numbers were down because the stock market is turning bearish. Skip Wagner, who is the president of the 12th Man Foundation at Texas A&M, seems to agree with market argument. He told the Chronicle for Higher Education:

“I’m glad we’re not doing many major fund-raising projects right now. It would be incredibly difficult if not impossible to do in today’s environment what we did two and three years ago.”

No matter the market, massive fundraising campaigns are here to stay in college sports. Without this philanthropic support, athletic departments would lose one-quarter or more of their revenue and struggle to cover the cost of new facilities and increased aid for athletes.

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