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Keeping Stevens key to Butler's fund-raising plans

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Butler University Athletics Director Barry Collier has his No. 1 off-season goal accomplished less than a week after the Bulldogs' men’s basketball season ended with a close loss in the NCAA championship game.

Though Collier convinced Butler to sign coach Brad Stevens to a 12-year deal, his work is hardly done. Assuring Stevens stayed in the Bulldogs' kennel is part of a multi-prong plan to grow the Indianapolis school’s $11.2 million athletics department budget.

Last week, Collier and Butler President Bobby Fong unveiled to a group of university supporters a plan for a $10 million-plus renovation to 82-year-old Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Those plans include improvements to concession stands, restrooms and other amenities meant to increase attendance and drive up revenue. Butler has hired Indianapolis architectural firm Moody Nolan to study Hinkle Fieldhouse renovation costs.

The response from Butler alumni and other supporters has been strong since the plan was announced, Collier said, and he is confident the necessary funds will be raised.

Butler raised nearly $30 million more than its $125 million goal for a school-wide capital campaign that concluded last May.

“I think that’s an indication of the kind of support Butler has,” Collier said.

Collier added that the community-wide affinity for Hinkle Fieldhouse will help his cause.

“The fact that there is a very pinpointed target for this capital campaign helps,” Collier said. “Hinkle Fieldhouse is a special place in the hearts of many people, and that goes beyond people who have a direct connection to Butler.”

The extension of Stevens’ contract will make Butler's drive for cash much easier, said Larry DeGaris, director of academic sports marketing programs at the University of Indianapolis.

“The coach is the face of the program,” DeGaris said. “Players come and go in this day and age of college athletics, but the coach is one true measure of a program’s stability, and Butler supporters and sponsors have to like what they see.”

DeGaris expects Stevens to be involved—either directly or indirectly in fund raising.

“He’ll be a big fund-raising tool for the school, no doubt about that,” DeGaris said.

Richard Sheehan, a Notre Dame economist, thinks there’s a risk involved in a school of Butler’s size (about 4,500 students) raising a coach’s salary to big-time levels.

Ten years ago, Butler’s men’s basketball coach made less than $200,000. Three years ago, that salary was $245,000. Sports business experts think Stevens’ new deal is worth nearly $600,000 in base pay, plus bonuses that could place the value of the package near $1 million annually.

Butler is following a course charted by Gonzaga University, a private school in Spokane, Wash., with an enrollment of about 5,000. Gonzaga paid its men’s basketball coach $200,000 a decade ago and now pays him a base salary of $851,000.

“Gonzaga has really tipped the scales in the West Coast Conference,” Sheehan said. “And now you’re seeing other schools there scrambling to compete. In most cases, those schools really can’t afford that kind of financial commitment.”

Butler’s annual athletics department budget is about one-third to one-fourth of schools like Indiana and Purdue universities, and only 10 percent of Ohio State University’s athletics budget.

Butler officials pay little attention to what other schools are doing, Collier said.

“We’re more concerned about doing what’s right for us,” Collier said. “We don’t measure this by what we spend; it’s the quality of what we do.”

Collier said not signing Stevens to a long-term deal was the bigger risk.

“In a competitive situation, you either move forward to be successful or wave the white flag of surrender,” Collier said. “Brad and [Butler’s] commitment is an indication of where we stand.”

The contract extension assures that only the nation’s biggest schools would be able to hire Stevens away from Butler. Sports business experts estimated that the buyout another school would have to pay Butler to hire Stevens during the term of his contract likely more than tripled, to around $3 million.

Collier emphasized that Butler’s drive to raise cash and compete at a higher level will not affect its core mission.

“A priority of our long-term plan remains the development of our students,” Collier said, “to make sure they graduate and to make sure they improve in every aspect of their lives.”
 

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