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You may not have been a star quarterback in college, but in the game of life, you’ve done pretty well. Now you have the means to give back to your alma mater. Of course, you aren’t the only one. Donations to college athletic departments average $1 billion a year, a striking increase from 15 years ago. This money helps fuel the sprawling business known as college sports, where everyone gets paid except the players.
The lucre is used to upgrade aging stadiums and practice facilities, build lucrative luxury boxes, and lure top coaches who command top dollar.But not everyone is, say, T. Boone Pickens, the oil magnate who over several decades has donated an estimated $1 billion—about half his wealth—to his alma mater, Oklahoma State University, with a quarter of that earmarked for athletics. And rare is the philanthropist who gets their name on a team’s 50,000-seat stadium.
So what is left? Turns out colleges will happily take donations that land alums’ names on everything from locker rooms to stairwells to coaches’ offices. And to hear fund-raising pros talk, it isn’t just an ego-building exercise. “Naming encourages other people to donate and raises awareness about donating,” says Adam G. Walker, executive senior associate athletic director, development, at the University of Memphis. He also says it doesn’t simply benefit the athletics department. “Raising money on the sports side helps you raise money on the academic side,” he says. “All boats rise with the tide.” Here’s what we found money can buy for devotees of the college game.
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