Before 1993, most of the money donated to the Razorback Foundation was earmarked for the University of Arkansas football program.
Since that year, though, when Bud Walton Arena opened for the UA basketball team, the donations have been pretty much evenly split between football and basketball.
“Prior to 1993, the ratio is roughly 60 to 65 percent football,” says Chuck Dicus, president of the Razorback Foundation, a private organization that raises funds for UA athletics. Now, Dicus says, donations to the football and basketball programs won’t vary by more than 10 percent one way or the other in any given year, with basketball bringing in the most donations in some years.
The foundation classifies donations as either “annual gifts,” which are received on a yearly basis and are tied to ticket distribution (see accompanying graphic); or “major gifts,” which are given to the foundation sporadically and are usually earmarked for scholarships or for the construction or renovation of facilities.
The most important statistic, Dicus says, is the steady increase in annual gifts. Since Dicus arrived at the foundation in 1991, annual gifts have increased by $200,000 to $300,000 per year, he says.
The late James “Bud” Walton of Bentonville gave $15 million to help build the $35 million arena that bears his name. The “major gift” was given to the foundation in three annual $5 million installments in the early 1990s. The foundation received less in total donations in 1994, the year after the last $5 million installment was received, but annual gifts were actually up that year.
“I don’t think contributions vary at the same proportions that ticket sales do,” Dicus says. “Through the lean years for football, contributions are somewhat steady. The people who quit buying tickets in lean years generally are not your donors.”
Donations to the basketball program averaged about $1.5 million a year before 1993, Dicus says. Since then, donations to the basketball program have averaged $2.5 million a year.
Dicus says Bud Walton Arena has twice as many seats (19,000) as there were in the basketball team’s old home, Barnhill Arena.
Razorback basketball games have been sold out for the past 10-12 years, he notes. “We’ve got 6,000 names on the waiting list.”
The Razorback Foundation brought in $9.3 million in 1995, the most recent year for which year-end tax records are available to the public under federal law. The foundation spent $7 million of that amount in 1995 to build Baum Stadium, the UA’s baseball facility. Another $785,870 went for coach’s compensation and relocation, and $1 million was paid for scholarships.
Dicus says the foundation probably brought in $6 million to $6.5 million in annual gifts in both 1996 and 1997, but that amount doesn’t include major gifts.
In 1994, the foundation brought in $7.8 million. The foundation received $11.9 million in 1993, but $5 million of that total was the third installment in the $15 million major gift from Walton.
Tax records were missing for fiscal 1992, which ended June 30, 1993, according to Ken Mourton, attorney for the Razorback Foundation. Records also weren’t available for 1990 and the years before 1989.
In 1991, the Razorback Foundation brought in $9.9 million (including $5 million from Walton), and in 1989 the foundation received $3.9 million, Mourton says.
The foundation has existed in some form since 1972. Initially, it was called the Razorback Scholarship Fund and was operated by Wilson Matthews, the UA’s assistant athletic director.
The fund was reincorporated in 1981 to “clean it all up,” says Mourton. In 1988, the name was changed to the Razorback Foundation, and the foundation moved off the UA campus to avoid having its records open to the public under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.
Fund-raising organizations for athletics are common at universities across the nation. In Arkansas, state law caps the amount of salary that state employees — for example, college football and basketball coaches — can earn. And that amount is far below the national average for the country’s major athletic power schools.
Enter the Razorback Foundation, which has a “deferred compensation agreement” with Nolan Richardson, the Hogs’ head basketball coach. Dubbed a “golden handcuff” in the sports management industry, the agreement was originally set up to pay Richardson a $1 million lump-sum payment after he completed his seven-year contract at the UA.
Dicus refused to comment on the specifics of the agreement with Richardson but did confirm Richardson was being paid by the foundation for duties beyond coaching. Richardson and other coaches have “personal-services contracts” with the foundation that pay them for speaking engagements and for participating in other events, Dicus says.
“Division I schools need some mechanism for raising funds other than the standard ticket sales, concessions, television and radio, and conference distributions,” says Dicus, who was a star wide receiver for the football Hogs in 1968 to 70. “Those methods of revenue are generally not enough to carry an athletic department, and that’s where other methods of fund raising come into place.”
Dicus says the foundation has money invested with the Common Fund, a money-management fund based in Philadelphia. One endowment the foundation received is invested with the Common Fund to help pay for scholarships. In 1995, the foundation had about $10 million deposited with the Common Fund. Dicus says that amount varies from year to year.
The foundation spends the vast majority of money it receives. Every year, it provides at least $2.4 million to the UA athletic department to use as it sees fit.
“Those funds are used at the discretion of the university,” says Dicus, “but primarily they’re for scholarships, program operation and facility maintenance.”
Other donations to the foundation are used for specific projects such as the construction of Walton Arena and Baum Stadium.
The large, major gifts are certainly appreciated by the foundation, but Dicus is quick to credit the smaller donors as well.
“The real core of our program is the 10,000 donors out there making those annual donations,” he says. “It’s good to have donors like Bud Walton, but the guy out there who can only give $500 has a role to play on our team, also. He’s loyal and faithful and does it year in and year out.”