CU Buffs athletics enjoying record-breaking year for fundraising

George: focus on student athletes has been beneficial

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
CU athletic director Rick George addressed the athletic budget and fundraising efforts recently, calling the 2018-19 fiscal year one of the best the program has seen in fundraising efforts.

With the Champions Center, indoor practice facility and some Folsom Field upgrades completed, the Colorado athletic department has turned its focus to student-athlete development initiatives.

The response from alumni and donors has been significant.

Approaching the end of the fiscal year – which closes Sunday – CU is on the verge of a record-breaking year for fundraising. Official numbers won’t be known until later this summer, but should land in the $25-30 million range.

“It’ll be our best fundraising year that we’ve had in our history here in athletics,” athletic director Rick George said.

Although CU isn’t ignoring other capital projects that need to get done, the athletics department has spent the past year emphasizing the student-athletes more. In particular, there has been a push to prioritize mental health, nutrition and career development.

“I went into it enthusiastically and positively,” George said of the renewed focus, “because I think people want to invest in young people. I’ve been incredibly pleased with the support and the enthusiasm we have around these initiatives.

“Pushing out these three initiatives, our base has really been supportive of that. Our fan base has been great.”

During the next year, George said, “We won’t change our focus,” adding that there is still a great need to raise money and support for those three initiatives.

George did acknowledge, however, that capital projects need to get done, as well.

This summer, the locker rooms for basketball, lacrosse and volleyball are being upgraded at CU Events Center. At Folsom Field, the only significant change for this year will be an upgrade with the wireless network.

In the next few years, however, George would like to see more projects completed, especially at Folsom.

“The west side of the stadium we need to fix,” he said. “There’s a real opportunity and return on our investment doing something significant over there. I’d like to do that in the next three years.”

An upgrade to the public address system and a larger video board at Folsom are also priorities, and George would like get an indoor tennis facility, lights at Prentup Field, and more.

“There’s a lot of things we can do here and I think we’re behind a little bit from the infrastructure standpoint on things we need to get done that we’ve got to do in the next few years,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of things, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done.”

The holdup, of course, is money. A new PA system at Folsom, for example, would cost somewhere between $1.2-1.8 million, George said.

“We don’t have that sitting right next to us, but yes, it needs to be fixed,” he said. “We don’t want to add more debt to our books, so we need support to be able to do that and maybe some community partnerships or some corporate partnerships that help us do that.”

Despite record numbers for fundraising, for the first time since 2014 the athletic department will show a budget deficit. That is, in part, because of the settlement for former head football coach Mike MacIntyre.

CU will pay MacIntyre $7.238 million in two payments – one made in March and one due Jan. 20, 2020. Although the second payment of $3.696 million doesn’t come until next year, it had to be recorded for the 2019 fiscal year for accounting purposes.

CU has balanced its budget almost every year under George, so he’s not concerned going forward, he said.

“We know how to operate our budget and we know the revenues and we always budget conservatively to make sure that we do stay in the black and we hit our budget every year,” he said.

One of the reasons George isn’t worried is that the department is expecting good numbers for ticket sales with football and men’s basketball in the next fiscal year. Football ticket sales are already going well for this fall.

“If we have the success at the gate that I think we will in both football and men’s basketball, we’ll be able to relax a little bit,” George said.