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February 17, 2005

Athletics Launches $45 Million Campaign

Pitt’s Department of Athletics last week announced a $45 million, three-year fundraising campaign that includes increasing the number of football and basketball seats requiring donations for the purchase of tickets.
Dubbed “Quest for Excellence — The Campaign for Pitt Athletics,” the effort hopes to raise funds toward endowed scholarships ($5 million), building and improvement projects ($25 million) and student-athlete scholarships ($15 million) through membership in the Panther Club, the fundraising arm of the athletics department. Mike Pratapas, senior associate athletics director, reported on the campaign to the University Senate athletics committee Feb. 11.
Pitt has 450 student-athletes and fields 19 NCAA teams, five of which — men’s soccer and track, and women’s soccer, track and tennis — don’t have on-campus home fields, Pratapas said. “For example, the women’s soccer team has to travel to Harmarville for its home games, and has to practice on the baseball field,” he said. “The track team has no outdoor track and spends most of its practice time at CMU — on [Carnegie Mellon’s] schedule.”
Other athletics department programs in need of facility renovations include baseball, softball, men’s and women’s swimming and diving. The University also needs a complex for the Pitt Band, which used Pitt Stadium for offices and practices until the stadium was razed in 1999.
“We also need to expand the wrestling training facility and the Olympic sports weight room,” housed at Fitzgerald Field House, he said.
Pitt lags behind its competitors in funding scholarships for its athletes, according to Pratapas.
An independent survey of Division I university athletics development programs for FY03-04 conducted by Grenzebach Glier & Associates, Inc., a management consulting firm based in Chicago, Ill., found that Pitt’s total private support for athletics was 46 percent below the average; its annual athletics scholarship fund was 50 percent below the average, and the department’s development budget was 32 percent below the average.
In 2003-2004 Pitt had annual scholarship costs of $6.6 million but raised only $3.8 million of that through contributions to the Panther Athletic Scholarship Fund (part of the Panther Club), Pratapas said. The difference of $2.8 million had to come from other revenue sources, he said.
To compete adequately for conference championships in all sports, which is Pitt’s goal, the University needs to be able to fully fund the maximum athletic scholarships allowed by the NCAA, for which a total of $8.2 million in needed annually, he said.
The NCAA sets scholarship maximums for each sport. As examples, 85 scholarships are allowed for the football team, and 13 and 15 are allowed for the men’s and women’s basketball teams, respectively.
Currently, Pitt fully funds the scholarship maximum for only four of its 19 teams, Pratapas said. The department conducted an analysis showing that Pitt also is behind its competitors in the funds it garners for athletics through gifts and other revenue sources, such as football and basketball game seats requiring a donation before tickets can be purchased.
The NCAA says that the national average for seats that require a donation is 30 percent, according to Pratapas. Currently, Pitt is at 10 percent for football and 18 percent for basketball, he said.
“Syracuse requires donations for 50 percent of their seats for both football and basketball. UConn requires donations for at least 80 percent of its basketball seats. Some schools like Maryland, North Carolina and North Carolina State require donations for every basketball seat,” Pratapas said.
Pitt’s expanded donor-based seating plan applies to the Petersen Events Center and Heinz Field, but does not impact current student seating at either venue, Pratapas said.
• For Panthers basketball, donations will be required for purchase of about 68 percent of the 12,500-seat arena, beginning next season. About 8,500 seats will be re-assigned each year, with the exception of seats located front-row courtside or in the loge and club sections. These will remain the same through the 2009-2010 season as long as a donor maintains the commensurate gift level for the seat.
All other annual non-student seating assignments for basketball will be based on a donor’s active status as a Panther Club member, his or her annual athletics department giving level and his or her support of Panther athletics over time.
Pitt has a waiting list of 3,000 fans for its basketball season ticket plans, Pratapas said.
• For football, contribution levels will be designated for certain premium seats, about 33 percent of the 60,000-plus seats in Heinz Field. A donor can maintain that seat from year to year based on meeting the commensurate gift level designated for the seat, Pratapas said. Such levels are $100 per seat for the best seats, and $75 and $50 for seats farther away from the 50-yard line (plus the cost of the tickets).
Current season ticket-holders will have the first right to keep their football seats based on maintaining the commensurate donation fee level. Other donors will be able to select seats based on their priority points status as a Panther Club member.
A minimum $100 annual contribution to the Panther Club is needed to maintain active status.
“The goal is to ensure that previous and new donors are rewarded fairly and equitably, based on a combination of their annual giving and their longevity in supporting Panther athletics,” Pratapas said.
Information will be mailed soon to both football and basketball season ticket holders, explaining their options, Pratapas said.
Faculty and staff will continue to receive a discount on season ticket prices, but must meet the donation requirements of specific seating areas. More information also is available at the Department of Athletics web site:
The “Quest for Excellence” campaign is part of the University’s current capital campaign, launched in 2000, which has a goal of raising $1 billion by June 30, 2007. Pitt has raised more than $740 million to date toward the $1 billion goal.
—Peter Hart

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