The Odds Aren't Good. Behind a Big Campus Athletics Gift

photo: Aspen Photo/shutterstock

photo: Aspen Photo/shutterstock

Trivia time!

What percentage of Division I men's basketball players go on to play professionally after graduation? If you said 10 percent you'd be off. Way off. According to the NCAA, the figure is 1.2 percent

The numbers aren't much better for men's hockey players (6.4 percent), football players (1.6 percent), and women's basketball players (0.9 percent).

This reality underscores a vexing problem facing many student-athletes. They lack the time to devote themselves fully to academics and professional development because they're too busy traveling, practicing and playing a sport they won't play professionally after they graduate. As a result, many find themselves ill-equipped for the wider world beyond college athletics.

Enter Barry Gossett, a University System of Maryland (UMD) regent and former chair of the board of trustees for the University of Maryland College Park Foundation, and his wife Mary. The couple recently made a $21.25 million gift to create the Barry and Mary Gossett Center for Academic and Personal Excellence at UMD to boost the academic success of student-athletes.

"Demanding athletic schedules pose unique challenges to student-athletes, causing barriers to internships and part-time jobs that help students develop important skills during their time in college," Gossett said. "Because of that, we were drawn to the idea of providing student-athletes with the real-life experiences they need to help them succeed in their future careers beyond athletics."

The new Gossett Center will provide a suite of programming offerings, including paid summer internships, mentorships to assist graduates navigating the professional world, and TERPS Career Network, an electronic platform that connects current and former student-athlete graduates. Programs are slated to go live in fall 2018.

Damon Evans, UMD's interim athletic director, noted that the school also stands to benefit from the center, as it will be "positioned better than ever to recruit and retain world-class athletes by supporting their athletic and academic careers from the moment they step on campus to well after graduation." (Recruiting and retaining world-class athletes won't be the only item on Evans' successor's to-do list. The cost to build UMD's indoor football facility ballooned by 25 percent to $196 million last summer, prompting the Washington Post to note, dryly, "fundraising will be one of the biggest tasks for the next athletic director.")

Barry Gossett serves as an executive advisor of the Chicago-based New Harbor Capital Management LLC. Previously, he was chairman of the Baltimore Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America as well as the Anne Arundel Medical Center Foundation.

A UMD alumni, he donated $10 million toward building the school's football "team house" adjoined to Maryland Stadium, which opened in 2007. The Gossetts have also provided financial support for the school's Incentive Awards Program and business and engineering schools.

The couple's donation comes roughly six months after a $219 million mega-gift from the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation to expand scholarships, endow new faculty positions, and fund investments in buildings at the University of Maryland’s flagship school.

When commenting on the foundation's gift, I framed it as yet another example of state schools turning to private dollars for help to keep tuition in check, fund programs, and pay for capital expenses like increasingly expensive indoor football facilities.

It turns out the University of Maryland's army of fundraisers were just getting warmed up.

In mid-May, the school launched "Fearless Ideas: The Campaign for Maryland." The $1.5 billion campaign, for which Barry Gossett serves as co-chair, will focus on "elevating and expanding the university’s mission of service, enhancing academic distinction and bolstering UMD’s leading-edge research enterprise."

If the campaign's goal sounds a bit outlandish, think again: With Gossetts' most recent gift in hand, the campaign has already netted gifts and pledges totaling $902 million, providing yet more evidence that elite private schools aren't the only institutions raising mountains of cash.

In related coverage involving philanthropy earmarked for student-athletes, check out our take on a $50 million gift from real estate developer and investor Peter Cooper and his wife Susan Cooper to launch Georgetown University's Cooper Athletics Leadership Program.