House on the Hill: Raising the Bar

February 23, 2015

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Raising the excellence and success of Lafayette athletics depends on support for both the Maroon Club and the Live Connected, Lead Change Campaign.

Nearly 50,000 fans filled Yankee Stadium for the 150th Lafayette-Lehigh football game. That enormous outpouring of support signals how deeply athletics is embedded in the tradition and character of Lafayette.

Now, Lafayette is hoping those dedicated alumni, fans, and families, plus the tens of thousands who couldn’t make it to the stadium this past November, will show their pride by participating in the College’s “Live Connected, Lead Change” capital campaign. The campaign, which kicked off publicly Nov. 21 in New York City, aims to raise more than $400 million, $20 million of which is earmarked for athletics.

"The 150th was a launching point,” says Bruce McCutcheon, Director of Athletics. “It gave people a chance to see Lafayette on the big stage. The campaign can provide the additional resources we need to be there more often.”

More than 22 percent of the student body participates in Division I athletics. The campaign’s objective is to provide endowment support over the long term for hiring and retaining the best coaches, and for athletic scholarships, equipment and capital projects.

Meanwhile, during the campaign, separate annual giving through the Maroon Club, is still needed for yearly operations.

“Annual giving to the Maroon Club plays a critical role in helping us remain competitive,” says McCutcheon. “It allows us to provide our coaches with the edge they need in recruiting, in equipment, and in technology. That’s what our competition is doing, and we need to do the same.”

The Maroon Club raised $1.23 million last year, which ranks sixth among the Patriot League’s 10 full-time members.

The goal this year is to raise $1.4 million before June 30; the current balance is at 61%. But McCutcheon and Joe Giaimo, executive director of the Maroon Club, have set their sights higher. They want to reach $2 million annually before the campaign ends. The funds help pay for assistant coaches' salaries, recruiting budgets, equipment, game-day expenses, travel and facilities projects.

There’s little doubt that having those elements in place could be what the Leopards need to improve their standing in the President’s Cup. Through seven sports this academic year, they sit in ninth place out of 10 schools, the same spot held in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years.

Size of student body is one of the biggest challenges facing the Maroon Club. With an enrollment hovering around 2,400, Lafayette’s the smallest in the Patriot League. That means Lafayette has the smallest alumni body (28,000 strong), the primary target audience from which to solicit donations. A few Patriot League schools have enrollments twice the size of Lafayette’s, placing the Maroon Club at a considerable disadvantage in terms of potential donors.

That’s where Giaimo and Cindy Oaks Linville ’80, P’13, P’18 come into play.

Cindy Oaks Linville '80, pictured above with family at Lafayette-Lehigh this past fall at Yankee Stadium.

“Because we are competing with teams from schools that have much larger student bodies, we have some catching up to do,” says Giaimo. “Athletic competitions draw a lot of attention from the media and from alumni, giving more exposure to the College in general. That is one reason why it is so important to have more winning seasons. Lafayette wants to be great at everything. We want to have the best biologists, best engineers, and the best athletes.”

Linville, who played field hockey and lacrosse at Lafayette and became president of the Maroon Club in 2011, is confident the campaign goal of $20 million in support of athletics will be met. But she knows the state of Lafayette athletics could improve drastically with annual funds beyond the campaign contributions.

“We need everybody to participate,” says Linville, one of nine family members who graduated from or currently attends Lafayette. “We have 1,900 donors in the Maroon Club. That’s just a fraction of our former student-athletes—the current total is 7,464. I am challenging every former student-athlete and their parents to make giving a gift every year for the next four years a priority.

Lafayette athletics has successes to be proud of—the football team has won seven Patriot League titles, including the 2013 season, and the men’s basketball team appeared in three Patriot League finals from 2011 to 2013. In addition, the athletic programs have the fourth highest total in the nation in graduation success rate in the NCAA. Lafayette boasted a 97 percent GSR overall for 18 sports measured, and a total of 12 programs had a rate of 100 percent. For fall 2014 semester, 68 percent of Lafayette’s 533 student-athletes earned higher than a 3.0 GPA, including 21 students with perfect 4.0’s. Still, the coaches, teams, and supporters also want to see all of the teams be more competitive on the playing fields.

“The more funds we raise, the more successful we are likely to be,” says Giaimo. “That money can give us a competitive edge and will help coaches attract students who are top-level players.”

Donors can earmark donations to a specific sport through the “Friends of” programs, make gifts to the Maroon Club General Fund, or create an endowment of $1.5 to $2 million for an athletic scholarship or other special purpose. For example, the Kirby Foundation donated $2 million to endow the position of Fred M. Kirby II ’42 Head Football Coach.

“We have an amazing group of coaches, but they can’t produce championship teams without greater resources,” says Linville. “Nothing says more about the support of athletics than our alumni, students, parents, faculty, and friends filling Yankee Stadium. That is a testament to how much people care about athletics at Lafayette. They care because it’s a tradition.”

“We proved that, so now let's think even bigger.” 

By Mandy Housenick | House on the Hill 

For more information on the Maroon Club, please contact Executive Director Joe Giaimo (giaimoj@lafayette.edu, 610-330-3116).