Missouri State University men’s basketball coach Dana Ford is focused on fundraising for the team, and longtime donors seem to be on board.
During Springfield Business Journal’s 12 People You Need to Know event on May 21, Ford said he’s spending time during the offseason working on fundraising while his assistant coaches focus on recruitment. Ford said he didn’t know the exact figure he was after, but it was “in the millions for sure.”
With a month left in the fiscal year, the men’s basketball team so far has received $1.1 million, according to university officials. They say a specific fundraising goal has not been set.
“There’s never a coach yet that’s said there’s enough money,” MSU Athletics Director Kyle Moats said, noting program funding comes from philanthropic efforts and ticket sales. “Realistically, we want to be in the top third of the conference.”
In Ford’s first season as head coach, the Bears posted a 16-16 record, including 10 Missouri Valley Conference wins. Attendance at JQH Arena was up about 600 people per game on average, the coach said.
“When you take over a program, initially you have a rebuilding period, and I think expectations are probably pretty low,” Ford told SBJ Editorial Director Eric Olson, during last month’s live interview event. “If we took a vote, we probably exceeded expectations this year. We definitely exceeded our own.”
Donors and fans contacted by SBJ say they support Ford’s direction and will continue to back the Bears basketball team.
“I think the whole community is very excited about what (Ford) represents and the culture he brings,” said David O’Reilly, board chairman of the O’Reilly Automotive Inc. (Nasdaq: ORLY) and a $10,000 annual contributor to the program. “He represents a great opportunity for the program to be a very competitive and successful program.”
Donations to MSU athletics from individuals and businesses are funneled through the Bears Fund, a fundraising program for MSU athletics that benefits all NCAA sports programs.
Bears Fund money raised the last two fiscal years designated for the men’s program are on par with the 2019 sum, but fiscal 2016 brought in $1.5 million. The Bears Fund received as much as $3 million in 2008 for all sports donations.
“Usually, there’s a correlation with the Bears Fund and wins and losses,” said Brent Dunn, MSU’s vice president for university advancement. “If you have a bad few years, that hurts private sports donations. If you have good years or good things are coming, people tend to buy tickets and revenues increase.”
The Bears Fund is part of MSU’s athletics budget, which Dunn said includes funding from the NCAA, season ticket sales and scholarships. University budget documents show total operating expenses for the athletics department in fiscal 2018 were almost $11.4 million.
“When you do better and do well, that’s where that money comes,” Moats said.
The men’s basketball operating budget expenses have steadily increased over the last five years, according to numbers provided by the university.
For the 2017-18 year, the program spent almost $706,000 and over $645,000 the year prior. During the 2015-16 season, the team expensed over $535,000, preceded by expenses of $546,000 from 2014 to 2015. The tallies do not include scholarships or salaries.
Darrell and Danette Proctor, owners of D-4 Investments LLC, have been supporters of MSU athletics since they both graduated from the university 40 years ago. Darrell Proctor said they feel attached to the men’s basketball team.
“With Dana Ford, I think we’re getting better, we’re playing a higher level of basketball, and we’re getting some good traction,” Proctor said. “I’m pleased to see the progress we’ve seen the last couple of years.”
The couple donates $1,200 every year to the Bears Fund and another $400 as members of the Prime Overtime Club. Proctor said he anticipates making continued donations to the program.
“We’re in there through thick and thin, good and bad,” he said. “We’re going to keep on going to the games and watching our Bears.”
Bears Fund giving is broken into nine levels with donations from $50 to at least $20,000. The levels of giving under $1,000 include the Cub, Bruin, Silver and Gold Bears clubs. Donations above $1,000 are the Diamond Bears, Champions and All-American clubs. Donations in the Hall of Fame Club and the AD’s Circle are the highest levels of giving at $10,000 and $20,000, respectively.
While wins generally equate to dollars, the MSU men’s program has some room to grow, especially when it comes to its counterpart on the hardwood. The Lady Bears posted a 25-10 season this year and finished in the NCAA women’s basketball Sweet 16 for the first time since 2001.
Donors to the men’s basketball team have said it’s too early to expect something similar with Ford still building his program.
O’Reilly, who has been working full time for his family’s auto parts retail company since 1972 and was vice president for 18 years, plans to continue donating five figures yearly to the Bears Fund, saying every program has its ups and downs. He characterized himself as one who’s “always been a Bears fan” and has donated to the Bears Fund for at least 10 years. The O’Reilly family also donates yearly to the athletics department at Drury University.
Larry Lipscomb, president of Pioneer Outdoor, said he supports Ford’s early efforts at MSU and that the new coach needs time to prove what he can do for the Bears.
Pioneer Outdoor donates over $20,000 to the Bears Fund, according to university documents, which Lipscomb identified as an in-kind donation of billboards. Pioneer Outdoor has donated the outdoor advertising for the past 35 years.
Hiland Dairy Foods Co. LLC has given contributions to the Bears Fund “for quite some time,” said Controller Lynn Wall, and will continue to donate. MSU records show the company gives at least $20,000 yearly.
Great Southern Bank donated $61,300 this fiscal year to the Bears Fund, according to spokeswoman Kelly Polonus.
“Great Southern has a long history of supporting Missouri State athletics, and we look forward to many more years of support,” she said via email.
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