The Virginia Athletics Foundation shared some good news earlier this month: the organization met its fundraising goal for 2014. VAF raised $15.6 million in donations, surpassing its 2014 goal of $15.4 million and trouncing its 2013 total of $14.7 million. The organization received donations from 9,247 members. VAF executive director Dirk Kastra shared the news on his Twitter feed:
Final results are in for 2014 @UVA_VAF annual fund. Beat goal by $200,000. $15.6 million raised. Thank you donors! Let's do it again in 2015— dirk katstra (@DirkKatstra) January 19, 2015
While athletic department funding isn't always the most exciting stuff to report, it's worth considering what VAF's success can tell us about the overall health of the Virginia athletic program. Here are a few potential takeaways:
1) VAF continues to do great work and deserves a lot of credit
VAF took a big reputation hit a few years back with the re-seating of Scott Stadium. But while the effectiveness and intent of that effort remain up for debate, it shouldn't overshadow the work the organization has done in recent years.
Per NCAA rules, Virginia is allowed to fund a maximum of 316.6 scholarships. The VAF funds all of those scholarships through supporter donations. While scholarship costs at UVA have risen over $2 million during the last 5 years, VAF has continued to answer the bell with its fundraising efforts. In addition, VAF has provided funds for academic support and for some of the operational costs of the general athletic department.
Tougher challenges may be ahead for VAF as the Big 5 conferences reconsider what's included as part of athletic scholarships. But considering how they've performed over the last decade, the smart money should be on Kastra's group to meet those challenges when they arrive.
2) Virginia fans also continue to do great work and also deserve a lot of credit
Of course, we wouldn't be able to praise VAF's efforts if it wasn't for the generosity of its donors. In a show of sustained dedication, Virginia fans have donated more than $13.5 million per year each of the last five years. The biggest beneficiaries here, might be the non-revenue sports. It's an informal point of pride among Cavalier fans that we're just as engaged with our baseball, lacrosse, tennis, rowing, wrestling, etc. teams as we are with football and basketball teams. Fans at a lot of schools make similar claims. But Virginia fans put their money where their mouths are. Their generosity is rewarded every time Virginia wins a national title.
3) Donors are smitten with Tony Bennett and Brian O'Connor
It's no coincidence that the VAF broke the $15 million mark in the same year that the basketball team won the ACC and the baseball team came within a game of a national championship. Tony Bennett's squad has Virginia fans selling out JPJ regularly and Brian O'Connor has made a habit of extending the Virginia sports season well into June. I attended a VAF social event in Northern Virginia last Spring. Bennett had the donors wrapped around the room waiting for a chance to shake his hand. Recent pictures from baseball's "Step Up To The Plate" event show that O'Connor holds the same sway.
4) Football discontent hasn't hurt too badly...yet
The elephant in the room, of course, is Virginia's struggling football program. And one can't help notice the disparity between VAF's fundraising success and the empty seats at Scott Stadium. Many heated promises have come from Virginia fans over the last couple of years to "not give another dime to UVA as long as Mike London is coaching." So far, those promises have only affected ticket sales. The effect of football's demise on 2015 fundraising will definitely be a story to watch.