Good Choices

While West Virginia obviously hit the jackpot with their most recent hirings of head coaches in both football and men's basketball, it also came up a winner when Whit Babcock came on board as the Executive Director for Athletic Development at WVU.

Babcock, a WVU graduate, now heads up WVU's athletic fundraising efforts at the Mountaineer Athletic Club (MAC), and ever since he took the reins the MAC has been expanding and improving its efforts to provide the Mountaineer athletic teams the financial support they need to be successful. Evidence of that work comes in the numerous new programs instituted by the MAC, as well as the improvement of existing programs already in place.

An example of the former is the new Basketball Legacy Fund, which is designed to support the men's and women's basketball programs.

"Our purpose in creating that program was to take advantage of the great momentum and the March to remember that men's and women's basketball gave us," Babcock told "Anyone that chooses to participate in that program will directly assist the men's and women's basketball teams. We have some benefits associated with that program, and the money generated from it will be used for basketball recruiting, academic services and facilities in the Coliseum."

Babcock and his staff have also revamped and improved a number of existing programs offered by the MAC, which provide more value to the supporters of WVU athletics. For example, several years ago, the MAC began a brick project which allowed supports to purchase engraved bricks to be laid on a walkway at Mountaineer Field. After a couple of construction projects on that end of the stadium, it became difficult for supporters of that project to find their bricks, so Babcock and the MAC implemented an automatic locator on their website which enabled donors to quickly locate their bricks at the stadium as well as at the WVU Coliseum.

More evidence of the remodeling of the MAC came in the changes in the spring and summer fundraising dinners sponsored around the state. A few years ago, attendance at these events had begun to decline, so Babcock and his staff sprang into action. Headed by senior director for athletic development John Nitardy, the dinners changed into big events. At the Charleston dinner, athletes from just about every Mountaineer sports program joined supporters at their tables. Speeches were replaced with exciting highlight videos and talks directly from the student-athletes themselves, providing real-life examples of how donations to the MAC support WVU athletics.

Babcock is quick to spread the credit for many of these improvements and innovations to his staff, but it's also easy to see that he puts in long hours and lots of work on his part as well. If you've been to any major WVU fundraising event over the past couple of years, you've likely encountered him as he works the crowd, greeting as many people as possible and spreading the word about the Mountaineers' success.

Babcock has facilitated the process by which potential donors can support the Mountaineers. by implementing a number of programs that cover the gamut of potential supporters. Whether it's someone that is only capable of giving a few dollars a month or a corporate sponsor representing a major investment, the cheerful executive director believes that the MAC has a place for them to be a part of the team.

"Our business is one of the few where you can try to be everything for everyone," Babcock explained. "We want to have a program for everyone, whether they can give fifty dollars, or fifty thousand, or anything in between. Diversifying and giving everyone a chance to get in and be a part of the Mountaineers success is definitely what we want to do."

So far, that strategy has been a success, as the MAC is on target to break its fundraising record for the third consecutive year (the fiscal year ends June 30). Babcock is also quick to point out that that goal has been achieved even without counting a recent multi-million dollar gift of one longtime supporter.

"Even without counting Mike Puskar's gift, which thankfully we don't have to do," Babcock said with a smile, "we think we have a good chance to make this our highest level of giving for the third straight year. In the last two years we have gone from $4.5 million to $6.2 million in donations."

Of course, the downside of the increasing level of contributions is one of perception. Some fans and supporters may see the increased figures and think ‘They are doing fine. They don't need my gift.' Babcock, who is always ready with a quote, quip or analogy to illustrate his points, hopes to dispel any such thoughts.

"It was Will Rogers that said ‘Even if you are on the right track, you'll eventually get run over if you just sit there,' Babcock explained. "We have to make sure that people know we need their support, no matter how large or small. It can be a little bit tough to make a person who is only giving $50 to feel like his gift makes a difference. But we want them to know that there is strength in numbers, and that we need them all on board.

"To use a football analogy, Mike Puskar won the Heisman Trophy [with his gift], but we still need some All-Americans, some first team all-conference guys and ladies, all the way down to walkons. We need everyone all across the board."

To continue the analogy, just as football coaches study film and borrow plays and schemes from opponents, so MAC staff members do as they look at fundraising ideas and programs at other schools.

"If someone has a good idea, we don't have a problem borrowing it. I'm not against plagiarism at all," Babcock said with a laugh. "We look at other schools, not only in the Big East but also nationally. My previous experience in this area was at Auburn in the SEC, and that was a great place to learn and pick up things. It was a pretty competitive environment."

So, while Mountaineer fans continue to revel in the successes of WVU's athletic programs this past year, they might also include the successes of the Mountaineer Athletic Club in their review of the past year. Each is dependent upon the other, to some degree, as wins on the field often translate to more support from fans. Increased financial support, of course, allows for better facilities, increased travel efficiency on recruiting trips, and more support for student-athletes. So, just as Rich Rodriguez and John Beilein have vaulted their teams to another level, so did the hiring of Whit Babcock. Just call him the coach of the MAC.

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