Record donation wraps up strong year of athletics contributions

Athletics receives $3 million, donations on the rise

Though UB Athletics claimed two Mid-American Conference East titles and made a bowl game in 2013-14, perhaps its greatest victory came in the realm of fundraising.

April 19, prior to the football team's annual spring game, UB alum and donor Tunney Murchie put an exclamation point on the year, surprising the program by donating $3 million - the biggest donation in school history - toward improvements to the football headquarters at the south end of the West Grandstand of UB Stadium. Murchie had funded the original improvement with a $1 million donation in 2012.

The improvements will enlarge the footprint of the current football headquarters and also add a second floor. This will allow for expanded team meeting rooms in a central area in the stadium along with upgraded coaches offices.

"We had started something initially," Murchie said. "I think we did about $1 million to add some very needed spaces and welcome areas for possible candidates and for parents for players that are playing football. And I think it was just the next progressive step, when they presented me with an expansion program for the coaches and for the training staff and the players."

The donation allows the athletic department to go into the design and development phase of the project, which usually takes six to eight months. Following that phase, the department will need approval from campus facilities to begin building the structure.

The addition of a state-of-the-art athletic training facility to the West Grandstand at UB Stadium has already begun. The $1.5 million project will outfit UB Stadium with a training room featuring 16 training tables, four examination rooms, three hydrotherapy pools and eventually an onsite X-Ray room.

"We realized we needed a better treatment and rehabilitation area on site especially for football, football game days and training and practice," said Eric Gross, assistant athletic director for development. "We made that our priority when we got here. A lot of resources have gone into that; a lot of donor dollars have gone into that. We recently secured a pledge to name that project."

Prior to Murchie's donation, the largest donation in the program's history came in 2007 from Dr. Harold Ortman. The $1.1 million dollar gift was given to add a building with amenities for tennis players, coaches and fans.

The project was originally intended to be located just north of UB Stadium, but that site was deemed too expensive during the design and development phase. The department started the design and development stage over again, this time seeking to improve the already existing courts near the Ellicott Complex. Gross said the department hopes to begin construction early in 2015.

These projects are funded by donor dollars, in which the department has seen a significant spike this year.

Total donated cash is up 29 percent, pledged commitments are up 224 percent, the active donor base is up 27 percent and former student-athlete giving is up 10 percent from this time last year.

Gross also said merchandise sale spiked significantly this year after the release of the new "State University of New York at Buffalo" word mark.

"There are some people who are critical of it," Gross said. "But at the same time a lot of our donors - those who are actively involved in giving back to this program - they really like what we're doing and I think that's reflected in the numbers, too. It's hard to say that the branding has had a negative effect on what we're doing when the numbers say otherwise."

The next challenge for the athletic program is sustaining the donation pace from this past year, which Gross thinks will be attained through people seeing the strides being made with the current buildings and putting more faith in the department.