By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – While a backlash of frustration with Ole Miss athletics has bubbled to the surface after a disappointing calendar year, it hasn’t shown itself in the department’s ability to attract cash.
Ole Miss athletics director Pete Boone acknowledged frustration among some donors in a meeting with reporters earlier this week.
The school is coming off its first sports year since 1996 in which its football team failed to reach a bowl game, and its basketball and baseball teams also missed their respective NCAA tournaments.
In spite of that frustration the University of Mississippi Athletics Association Foundation – the fund-raising arm of Ole Miss athletics – is set to announce record receipts for the second-straight year.
The fiscal year ends June 30. At the close of the 2009-2010 year, the UMAA reported a record $17.1 million in contributions.
“I’d hate to put a number to it yet, but we’re on track to finish significantly over $18 million,” UMAA director Danny White said.
The foundation announces cash received only, not pledges.
Recently, fans and donors in three distinct groups have expressed dissatisfaction with the athletics department, some of them directing a very critical evaluation of Boone, who said such negative vibes are at some point inevitable in a career that is approaching 15 years.
“I don’t take it personally,” Boone said. “I’m sure there are some individuals who don’t particularly like me or the job I’ve done, but that comes with time.”
Boone says he believes his relationship with donors is strong.
White says he and his staff are received well in visits and conversations as they seek major gifts for athletics.
Later this summer the university will announce a fund-raising campaign with hopes of collecting between $125-$150 million. The top priority of the campaign is a new basketball arena.
The second is an expanded and restructured north end zone at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
“It’s just about as aggressive as we can be,” White said.
A frustrated group
Amid the frustrated voices membership in the “Vaught Society,” a group within the UMAA which requires a minimum gift of $5,000 annually, has increased in White’s two years from 27 members to 140.
At the football team’s last Cotton Bowl appearance on Jan. 2, 2010, the Vaught Society announced a goal of raising $12.5 million in four years.
“Now we’re about to get there in a year and a half,” Boone said.
In addition to a sub-par calendar year for Ole Miss teams the foundation has had to navigate the controversial issue of Col. Reb.
The university banned the popular on-field mascot, a likeness of a southern plantation owner, in 2003. In 2010 the student body voted to restore an on-field mascot and ultimately chose to place the colonel with a bear.
“I read and hear about people saying there are major donors that have stopped contributing much more frequently than I actually talk with major donors that are not contributing,” White said. “There are very few individuals who have been significant donors to Ole Miss athletics that have now stopped making donations because of issues like the mascot, probably less than five that I’m aware of.”
White cites the economy and any number of personal reasons that people of means may choose not to support the athletics department.
“In terms of people who have the ability to give at a significant level and have chosen not to for personal reasons … They may disagree with things that are happening, but there are very few people doing that in reality.
“Ultimately the numbers don’t lie,” White said. “People are stepping up and contributing. We’re seeing a lot more people at the table.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600