Seeking scholarship support, MU athletics pitches to local businesses

Representatives from the University of Missouri athletic department are soliciting funds from members of the business community to provide scholarships and other financial support for student athletes.

Jim Sterk, MU athletic director, and Jay Luksis, executive associate athletic director, spoke Wednesday at a meeting of Columbia’s Regional Economic Development Inc. They highlighted the athletic department’s accomplishments, provided attendees with a facilities update, and petitioned guests to financially support a fund meant to assist athletes with their financial needs.

“Probably the biggest area where we spend our money, obviously is tuition and fees back to the institution,” Sterk said. “This year it will be more than $20 million back to the institution.”

“We are contributing back, and we are not really receiving anything other than about $1 million in out-of-state and international waivers,” Sterk added.

Last year’s budget for MU athletics was about $107 million, Sterk said. That was almost a quarter less than the average in the Southeastern Conference, where the mean budget was $148 million.

MU also lagged its conference rivals in revenue from football ticket sales: The SEC average was about $25 million, and MU generated $11 million. MU’s peers averaged 68,000 season ticket holders, while MU had 33,000 last year.

Perhaps the most glaring discrepancy is in the number of donors who have subsidized the athletic program for the university. MU is ranked 13th out of 14 schools in the SEC in terms of donor memberships, according to a brochure provided at the meeting.

The pamphlet stated MU had 7,000 donors, besting only Vanderbilt, which had 6,300. The top programs in the conference have almost triple that number. The University of Alabama boasts about 20,000 donors, and Texas A&M has 18,700.

Sterk attributed that disparity partly to MU having to compete with professional sports teams for fans’ dollars.

“Alabama and Auburn, they don’t have any other competition,” Sterk said. “They don’t have the Blues, they don’t have Kansas City, the Chiefs and professional sports. College athletics is the focal point of the state.”

Sterk and his colleagues have set a goal to increase that donor count to more than 18,000, which would place MU in the top quartile of SEC programs.

They have established an initiative to help generate revenue for the scholarship fund.

“This program is basically designed to get more local businesses involved, your employees and your customers, in coming back specifically to football, but to all athletic events,” Luksis said.

The packages range from $1,400 to $2,800 and include a variety of benefits, from discounted football tickets to parking passes — all in the hopes of increasing support for the student athletes in the program.

“We are not in the poor house, but we are in the toughest conference in the country, and the most competitive conference in the country,” Sterk said. “That is the challenge, and that is where we need to continue to grow our base of support.”

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