College Athletics’ Top Ten Fundraising Athletic Directors

This is something that was done over at CollegeAD a number of years ago, and we thought, when we were asked to do something similar, why the heck not? We know how to rank things, too!

Every day in the media, you see stories about intercollegiate athletics programs taking pay cuts, eliminating positions, furloughs to make up for losses from the missed events and donations for the end of the 2019-20 academic year.

On top of that, you now have every program being concerned about losing millions of dollars if there isn’t a college football season in the fall.  The money shortfall doesn’t impact me directly but not having a college football season would really cause me anxiety.

We took the College AD model from 2015, and had dozens of conversations with coaches and administrators to find out which Director of Athletics will be earning their salaries with their revenue-generating skills.  You will notice a lot of the names on the list have built a great rainy day fund and are not sweating this past year’s losses.

Terry Mohajir – Arkansas State University – Under Mohajir’s leadership, the athletics department’s budget increased from $15.3 million in Mohajir’s first year to over a school-record $45 million.

He has built facilities that are second to none, including Power 5 programs. A-State Athletics placed among the top 10 programs in the nation in each of the four most recent Excellence in Management Cup standings, which annually reviews the nation’s athletics departments in regards to maximizing fiscal resources while providing results in the form of championship victories.

Danny White – University of Central Florida – As the leader of the UCF Athletics program, White already has seen numerous game-changing gift commitments made to UCF athletics—as the Knights produced record numbers of gifts received and overall commitments in the 2019 fiscal year. The $31.7 million total nearly doubled the previous year’s figure and is nearly four times what UCF raised just three years earlier.

A unique accomplishment for non-Power 5 program was White’s establishment of the UCF Football Excellence Fund.  The fund has raised more than $5 million to improve and sustain the current level of success.  He is the highest-paid Group of Five Director of Athletics.

Greg McGarity – University of Georgia – McGarity has been at the forefront of facility expansion and renovation. The construction of the new Indoor Athletic Facility adjacent to the Butts-Mehre Building is one of his marquee projects.

A new soccer stadium, football locker rooms at Sanford Stadium, and a Stegeman Coliseum center-hung scoreboard are projects on the current drawing board. Other recent projects include a $12 million Foley Field (baseball) facility renovation, and new scoreboards/video boards at baseball, softball, and soccer.

New sound systems in Stegeman Coliseum and Sanford Stadium have also been installed to improve the fan experience.  Greg gets top of the class marks for building up a secure reserve to weather any storm.

Chris Pezman – University of Houston – Growing the budget, improving outdated facilities, and raising the national brand of the Cougar Athletics program has been a great encore to the four-years of growth Chris spearheaded at the University of California Berkeley.

In addition, he has been able to attract a top college football hire and hang on to one of the top college basketball minds in the country.  Neither one of those would be possible without generating the revenue to support the programsRecord-setting fundraising and flirting with entrance to a Power Five conference can be attributed to Chris’ work.

Brian Wickstrom – University of the Incarnate Word (formerly) – Wickstrom’s career path has secured major facility lead gifts at Michigan, Missouri, ULM, and UIW.  In addition, at his last two stops, his efforts have secured most of the top ten commitments in the history of their respective athletics programs (unrestrictive giving included).

His creativity, energy, and outside-the-box thinking have increased ticket revenues, sponsorships, major gifts, and annual fund efforts by several hundred percentage points at each stop.  Both stops have self-generated revenues increased by multi-million dollars.

In his two-years at UIW, the national branding and exposure made one of the smaller Division I catholic institutions relevant in the San Antonio community.  While managing to do more with less, his effort, and relationships helped secure UIW as a co-host for upcoming Final Fours in San Antonio. Wickstrom was a NACDA AD of the Year nominee at ULM and UIW.

Doug Knuth – University of Nevada – Completing his seventh year as Director of Athletics in Reno, previous facilities accomplishments at Nevada include the $11.5 million renovation to 50-year-old Mackay Stadium in 2015-16.

The launch of the Ramon Sessions Basketball Performance Center revitalized a former campus recreation center building. And the 2018 football season saw the opening of Jensen Plaza, a grand new entry point to Mackay Stadium.

Knuth has also brought onboard new facilities for the tennis and track programs, with six new on-campus tennis courts at the McArthur Tennis Complex, a new throw facility developed on the eastern edge of campus,next to Hixson Park, and sparkling new silver and blue track circles at Chris Ault Field at Mackay Stadium.

Similar to Pezman, Knuth has made some great coaching hires, and to continues to attract them, but he has had to generate revenue to get to that point.

Bubba Cunningham – University of North Carolina – Cunningham is a top fundraiser but he also has the connections/relationships which have led to valuable revenue partnerships for the Tar Heels.

Among Carolina’s many achievements during his tenure is a partnership with Disney to enhance customer service and organizational practices.  A unique step to enhance athletics self-generated revenues.

At the beginning of 2018, the department launched “Together We Win,” an updated strategic plan and vision for Carolina Athletics for the next five years. Carolina finished construction on a new field hockey stadium, track and field complex and chair back project at Kenan Stadium, the next steps in a transformative array of athletics facilities projects that will also include a new football practice facility and lacrosse/soccer stadium as well as a new media and communications center.

Prior to his time in the chair as AD in Chapel Hill, Cunningham was AD at the University of Tulsa where he guided the Golden Hurricane through its initial move to Conference USA and spearheaded a $60 million athletics initiative.

His time at Ball State saw tremendous revenue growth as well.  Cunningham has UNC on solid financial footings and this has allowed him to keep the community’s health as the primary concern.

Wren Baker – University of North Texas – Finishing his fourth year with the Mean Green, Baker has not disappointed the hiring committee. Baker is a noted fundraiser and has led record fundraising years at four different universities.

During his tenure, UNT athletics has registered the four best fundraising years in its history. In 2017-18 UNT athletics set a school record for fundraising, nearly doubling the previous department record. The banner year culminated with the announcement of the two largest gifts ever received by UNT athletics.

Baker is a tireless marketer and promoter, with the results speaking for themselves. Ticket revenue has increased with a net increase of 125% since his arrival in 2016. Football attendance has soared by 71% while men’s and women’s basketball crowds have each grown by more than 64%. The three largest crowds on record for UNT home football games have occurred in the past three years.

Joe Castiglione – University of Oklahoma – Arguably the top Director of Athletics in the country, Castiglione is an AD who has built one of the top athletics programs in the country and is one of the most likable people around.

Credited with energizing OU’s fund-raising efforts, Castiglione was instrumental in the athletics department’s major campaign, Great Expectations: The Campaign for Sooner Sports.

Castiglione has cultivated numerous million-dollar gifts, including the largest capital gifts in history for athletics at OU, and some of the largest ever for the university as a whole. He has driven dramatic facilities projects, including a $70 million project at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

Others include a $17.2 million renovation of Lloyd Noble Center; phase I of The Headington Family Tennis Complex; John Jacobs Field; the Everest Training Facility, one of the largest indoor practice areas in the country; and Phase II of the soccer-tennis complex. Hard to believe any other AD has grown the budget by anywhere close to what Castiglione has in his long-tenure at OU.

 

Chris Del Conte – University of Texas – The Director of Athletics who single-handedly placed TCU into the Big 12 Conference with the help of DeLoss Dodds built TCU into a top national brand.

In his short time at Texas, Del Conte has spearheaded a number of projects designed to keep Texas at the forefront of college athletics. What might be the biggest coup in college athletics history is the $338 million dollar arena which will benefit the Longhorns programs but the Longhorns won’t have the cost on their income statement. Another big enhancement is a $175 million renovation to the South End Zone of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, which broke ground in May 2019.

This project will bring renovations to the Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletic Center, expand amenities for student-athletes, and enhance the coaches’ offices, along with providing a number of improvements and additions to gameday fan experiences. The Longhorns also have renovation and enhancement projects underway for Baseball, Basketball, Softball, and Swimming & Diving.

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