UM hopes for boost from Terps

Campus fund-raisers say Final Four fame could prompt big gifts

March 30, 2001|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

At the office of the Terrapin Club, the athletic booster organization of the University of Maryland, College Park, the fax machine started humming Monday morning. It hasn't stopped since.

"People were lined up outside the door when we got here on Monday," said Andrew Plenn, the club's executive director. "I haven't seen anything like it in my 10 years."

These weren't just people buying tickets to the Final Four; they were also people joining the Terrapin Club or upgrading memberships to ensure access to tickets.

"A lot of checks were written this week," Plenn said.

Appearing in the Final Four is a dream come true for University of Maryland fund-raisers, who are not only finishing a campaign to pay for the new $101 million arena that will house the basketball team in 2002, but are also in the closing months of a campaign that could bring in more than $500 million.

Brodie Remington, the school's head of development, says the impact will be felt far beyond the athletic department.

"I can't say that on the first of April there is going to be some huge outpouring of gifts, but in terms of relationship-building for the long term, I think it will have a steady, positive impact on philanthropic support," Remington says.

Donated dollars generated by the Final Four appearance will show up first in places such as the Terrapin Club, directly related to athletics.

The $3.8 million brought in last year by the Terrapin Club's 5,000 members went to athletic scholarships. Before the Final Four appearance, the goal for this year's club memberships was $4.2 million. That falls short of the $4.6 million the school spends on athletic scholarships.

"That means the athletic director has to go into the operating budget and pull out $500,000 or $700,000," says Joe Hull, associate director of athletics for external operations. "Clearly our goal is to pay that entire bill. We won't make it this year unless this [Final Four appearance] gives us enough of a boost. If not, we'll get there in a year or two."

Erwin Raffel, a Baltimore dentist who is president of the Terrapin Club, hopes this enthusiasm can help push support beyond the $4.6 million level to the $5.8 million needed to fund all the athletic scholarships NCAA regulations allow the school.

"Only four of our 12 men's teams are fully funded," says Raffel, a 1956 Maryland graduate. He said that the school is allowed 30 more men's scholarships that it funds. But if it pays for those, federal regulations would require funding 30 more women's scholarships, which would require starting additional women's teams. "To do that would require the $5.8 million," says Raffel.

Hull does not see the Final Four mania having a major impact on the $20 million the school is raising from private donors for the new arena, the Comcast Center.

"That is 80 percent complete," Hull says. "We are already so close, I really don't see any effect. Investing in a project of that magnitude is a long-term decision. It doesn't come out of the emotion of one win."

The new arena should help boost Terrapin Club memberships -- required to purchase basketball season tickets -- simply because it will give the school 3,000 additional tickets to sell. Maryland's 16,000 season tickets to Cole Field House are sold out, so even a donor coming in at the top level of Terrapin Club membership -- over $10,000 a year -- could not likely purchase seats to Cole.

"In the last couple of years, when someone says they want to join the Terrapin Club or upgrade to purchase tickets, we have to tell them, `Sorry, we're sold out.'" Hull says. "That can dampen or even eliminate the conversation. Now we encourage them to join so they can be in position to get tickets a year from now."

But Hull says because Maryland played in the western region of the NCAA basketball tournament -- with games in Idaho and California before going this weekend to Minnesota -- the school was able to get in touch with people who may never live close enough to want season tickets.

"We got the attention of a broader group of Maryland people," he says. "Fund raising is about people thinking about you and having a relationship with you. Certainly an event like this works on both of those fronts."

Remington agrees. "It gives the university a rare opportunity to connect with people we don't often get a chance to see and rekindle relationships," he says.

"There will be 4,500 people at the [Final Four] who purchased tickets through the university," he says. "While the lion's share of those are already Terrapin Club members and athletic donors, among them will be people who have wide-ranging interests in other parts of the university, whether it's physics or the arts."

Some are skeptical about the impact of sports on fund raising. Murray Sperber, a professor at Indiana University at Bloomington points out that the schools that have big-time sports programs rarely have a high level of alumni giving.

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