Why one man stepped up so big for WSU

GREG RANKICH expected some polite clapping last month, like you always see when a fan or dignitary is introduced at mid-court or mid-field during a ball game. So when the 9,831 Cougar faithful at Key Arena for the WSU-Pepperdine game took real notice of him -- a standing ovation, no less -- this WSU grad was taken aback.

"It was an incredible feeling," says the 39-year-old CEO of Xtreme Consulting Group in Redmond.

The appreciation continued on the walk out of the arena after the game when various fans enthusiastically invited Rankich and his fiancé, fellow WSU grad Heidi Brown, to join them for a beer.

And the outpouring continued for days. Emails, text messages, phone calls, and twitter and facebook invitations poured in.

"I even had a voice message from a guy living in Wyoming, a Stanford grad, who called to say thanks. He has a son who goes to WSU," says Rankich, who holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Washington State.

Cougar Nation's warm embrace of Rankich stems from his record-setting generosity. In the pantheon of Cougar athletics, he stands alone. His pledge of $3 million to help fund WSU's stadium renovation marks the single-largest donation to Cougar athletics in school history.

"It's something I've always known I would do," said Rankich, a devout Cougar fan since attending a WSU football camp the summer before his senior year at Port Angeles High School.

In fact, his devotion to the Cougs was so great as an undergrad that he was banned from attending the 1992 Apple Cup because he'd been "a little too enthusiastic" in an earlier Cougar home game, he recounts with a chuckle.


Prior to his $3 million pledge, Rankich had already donated more than $1 million to various programs and departments at WSU. Work at Microsoft deepened his pockets in the years after leaving Pullman and his consulting firm, which he founded in 2005, has added to his economic strength.

The vision and leadership of WSU president Elson Floyd and athletic director Bill Moos convinced him the time was right to commit big to the football program, he said.

"I started talking with Justin Felker (regional director of the Cougar Athletic Fund) a year ago about the immediate impact and long-term effect of making a significant donation. We started out looking at $250,000 and what that would mean, and then $500,000, and slowly over time the amount grew as Justin and Bill showed me where they are taking WSU athletics and how exciting the future can be if every Cougar steps up."

His hope his three-fold.

"I know there are many alums wealthier than I am – I want them to look at this and say if a 39-year-old is willing to make this commitment, I can too," he says.

"I also want my kids (ages 12 and 8) to see how generosity can make a difference."

But that's just a part of it. If every Cougar fan donates something each year, no matter how big or small, the momentum will be huge, he stresses.

History tells us that success in athletics, which is the single-largest branding and marketing tool a university possesses, produces massive dividends for the broader university, he notes. So the investment in athletics has a benefit greater than the sum.

Examples across the nation show that donations to all parts of a school increase when the football and/or basketball teams are doing well. Former Cougar athletic director Jim Sterk often pointed out that the largest spikes in student applications to WSU coincided with Rose Bowl seasons in football and NCAA appearances in basketball.

"Athletics is the face of the university," says Rankich. "It has the power to raise the overall image and success of the school."

To join him in supporting WSU athletics, explore the possibilities HERE within the Cougar Athletic Fund.

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