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WVU fundraising group sets dollar record in contributions

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The goals are changing for Niles Eggleston and the Mountaineer Athletic Club. The performances are not.

For the fourth straight year, the MAC, which is WVU's chief athletic department fundraising organization, generated a record amount in contributions.

Eggleston, who is the executive director of the MAC and an assistant athletic director for development, said the WVU Foundation has validated a final number of $21.54 million for the 2010-11 fiscal year. Last year, the MAC raised $18.75 million.

"Our internal goal was $21 million, but what we said we really wanted to do was increase it about 15 perccent or so," Eggleston said. "There are still a number of projects out there we have to get into, so I was hoping to hit $22 million and knock the goal out of the park, but $21.5 million is solid."

Eggleston was named the MAC interim director in April 2008 and promoted to the full-time position that June.

The 2010-11 fiscal year is the second year of the MAC's plan to be at $30 million for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

The MAC is ahead of schedule, but also aware similar high-percentage leaps may not be attainable.

"If we continued at 15 percent, we'd be way above $30 million and way above what was a pretty big goal before," he said.

"We have a lot of payments coming up for the basketball practice facility and things like that. I'd just like to keep our trajectory moving up. We want to be realistic about it."

The reality for now is the MAC continues to excel for WVU's self-sustaining athletic department.

Eggleston came to the Mountaineers in October 2006 as director of development for athletics and was promoted to senior director of development for athletics in August 2007. He entered the interim executive director position near the end of the 2007-08 fiscal year and saw the MAC finish with an audited total of $13.85 million. For 2008-09, it was $15.01 million.

In 2002-03, the MAC raised $5.55 million.

"I remember when it was $9 million," Eggleston said. "When I got here six years ago, we'd just hit $9 million ($9.689 million, plus a $9.226 million piece of Mike Puskar's largest gift in WVU athletics history). We've really taken off since then.

"Obviously, there's a lot more emphasis on it now and it's become increasingly important to educate the fans to help them understand how important it is for them to help us. If we're going to keep moving forward and keep football and basketball and the athletic department competitive and relevant, it takes money."

One major change in 2010-11 was staging more of the Coaches Caravan functions. From April 2-June 7, the caravan made 15 stops in Houston, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and throughout West Virginia with combinations of coaches from all WVU sports. Sometimes there were two stops in a day. Sometimes two days were spent in the same city.

"We increased the number of stops because we've really tried to branch out and stress how every gift matters," Eggleston said. "No matter what size, every gift is important to us. We're working to increase our base support, so we were far more aggressive in our effort this year with the Coaches Caravan. We ramped that up because that's where we thought we could see the most growth."

Eggleston said about 65 percent of the money is going to the annual fund. It is from that fund that the athletic department pays its scholarship bill of about $8 million. Football season-ticket sales make up most of that fund.

Matt Wells, WVU's director of sports marketing, said 33,886 season tickets for 2011 had been sold as of Tuesday.

That's up 436 tickets from the same date last year.

On June 22, WVU started selling the season tickets that remained after the priority deadline. About 1,200 have been sold since then.

About 35 percent of the MAC's 2010-11 money will go toward major gifts, capital improvements and projects and endowments. The remaining 5 percent is headed to specific programs, like the football and basketball recruiting and travel funds and other sport-specific accounts.

Getting there wasn't so smooth, though. Eggleston and the rest of the MAC have dealt with what he categorized as "tumultuous" transitions in the past. In his time, WVU has seen two new president, a new athletic director, a new men's basketball coach and now two new football coaches. This past fundraising year provided two challenges.

The first was introducing Dana Holgorsen as the offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting for one year. The second was the rather rapid sequence in which Holgorsen was asked to leave a Kanawha Valley casino in the middle of May and then promoted after Bill Stewart resigned as the football coach June 10.

In a normal year, the MAC makes most of its money in April, May and June when the coaching caravan is rolling non-stop. May and June saw WVU make news for the wrong reasons, although Holgorsen and Stewart made all their previously planned appearances.

In June alone, the MAC made about $1 million, even with the caravan making the last stop June 7.

Eggleston said that's not an atypical number, but was nevertheless reassuring.

"There were challenges that I'm really proud we were able to work through and overcome to keep the dollars coming in," he said. "I think that goes back to the confidence people have in the leadership here.

"Regardless of all the stuff that was swirling around all those weeks or months or whatever time frame you're looking at, I think you see the people ultimately have confidence the athletic director and president were making the right decisions for the program."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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