The Kinder Garden - 5/29/02

What's better than spending five days at the races over Memorial Day? Coming back home to comment on Mountaineer sports, of course!

In what I view as a spring warmup for fall tailgating, I took in a boatload of races in Charlotte this past week, including the Coca Cola 600 on Sunday night.

While watching the crowd and beating the heat with a beverage of choice, another member of our race party noted that even so far away from the Mountain State, there is a lot of West Virginia paraphernalia to be seen.

Shirts, hats, flags, bumper stickers, you name it. The flying WV and "Mountaineers" were in strong evidence no matter where you went around the racetracks.

Of course, Charlotte has long been a migration point for West Virginians leaving the state, and there was no shortage of home folks who joined us on the journey down I77 to the Queen City. However, the sheer number of items on display brought a couple of thoughts to mind.

First, Mountaineers have a unique pride in their team and state. We may not have the most numbers, but there's some deeper level of commitment than you find at many other schools.

Second is the thought that there is a solid source of untapped revenue in that commitment. WVU has done a respectable job of courting the "big ticket" donors. Corporate sponsors like Coca Cola, United National Bank and Mylan Labs, along with individuals like Mike Puskar and Bray Cary, have donated large sums of money, without which the athletic department would hurting.

However, it comes to mind that the average guy, with his flying WV cap and bumper sticker, is being somewhat ignored in the fund raising process. Sure, the individual donation that Joe Lunchbucket can make won't pay for the new turf on the football field, but put enough of those donations together and they can make a big difference.

Think of this - if every fan who entered an average football game on a Saturday would drop $1 into a bucket, we'd have enough to endow an athletic scholarship. Call it the "Fans Pride Scholarship". Would you drop in a buck? I would. I used to drop in $5 for a chance at a new car that was raffled off at the end of the football season. Why isn't that done anymore?

There are a lot of ways to encourage the small donor. Put a payroll deduction program in place. Allow people to have as little as $1 per week deducted. At the end of the year, that's $52, right? If only 1000 people do that, it's another scholarship. And I'm sure many people would sign up for $5 or $10.

It's also helpful to start a drive with a particular goal. The current 1100 Club, which is geared toward covering recruiting costs, is a great idea. But, $1100 dollars is out of the price range of many WVU fans. Why not have one football Saturday designated as "Support Recruiting" day, and take donations, no matter the size? Raffle off old football gear and signed basketballs and football as prizes. The ideas are out there waiting to be implemented.

To continue, why aren't the small donors courted more aggressively? Sure, they get a mailer when it's season ticket time, but there's nothing geared toward the guy who can give $25 or $50 per year.

WVU's fundraisers need to focus on the average fan. Make sure they understand their donation, of whatever size, helps. Send out a window sticker and a note of thanks from a coach in reply - all people want is to know that what they are doing helps, and I bet it would be very successful.

The Mountaineer Athletic Club is supposed to be receiving reviews and suggestions from the WVU Foundation, which is doing well in the current "Building Greatness" campaign that benefits all of WVU. My hope is that one of those suggestions will be to develop a program that helps build those smaller donations. Is anyone out there listening?

* * *

The WVU athletic department is wrapping up its investigation into alleged improprities centering on rising sophomore point guard Jonathan Hargett. And while all indications are that West Virginia is going to have little, if any, connection to any possible wrongdoing, it's never too wise to count this matter as closed.

Although WVU officials and outside counsel have been extremely diligent in interviewing scores of people connected with the basketball program, and are wrapping up and writing a comprehensive report, you can never tell what the NCAA will do.

Once the NCAA gets the report, they can choose to accept the report and self-imposed penalties (if any), they can ask for further investigation, or they can conduct additional investigations of their own.

Predictions have been made that WVU will not be found culpable in any wrondoing, and that penalties imposed on individual players will be light. I hope that's true, but I wouldn't bet any money on it. Not because I think WVU has done anything wrong, but because I've observed the NCAA far too long to feel confident in predicting anything they will do in any situation. One look at the NCAA Clearinghouse, which determines eligibility for incoming scholarship athletes, is proof enough of that concept.


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