Alexander-Tharpe Fund sees leap in donations

Photo by Allie Ghisson, Student Publications

The Alexander-Tharpe Fund, the fundraising program of the Georgia Tech Athletic Association, brought in a record-breaking $53.5 million for 2019. The previous record, set in the fiscal year of 2000, was only $46 million, and Tech fundraising has not reached $30 million since 2009.

The fund is divided into three parts: current operations, endowments and facilities. $6 million were raised this year for scholarship endowments, $15 million for current operations and $32.3 million for facilities. This spike in facilities funding correlates with Athletics Initiative 2020, an ambitious project by Tech Athletics to raise $125 million by the end of 2020. Tech has earmarked $88 million of that sum for facilities, including a $70 million goal for renovations to the Edge Center, the headquarters of Athletic Association operations on campus. It also includes renovations to the Russ Chandler Baseball Stadium, McCamish Pavilion locker rooms and Bobby Dodd locker rooms. Tech has already fully funded both the football and baseball renovations, allocating $4.5 million and $9 million respectively for each of the projects.

The Edge center, which has not seen major renovations in decades, is being updated to modernize the facility, meet current athletics needs, attract recruits and increase fan engagement. Principally, the Edge center will serve as an athletics hub, supporting a variety of aspects of athlete life including nutrition, sports medicine and academics. The building will also serve as a location for branding and communications marketed at athletes, non-athlete students, recruits and fans. Additionally, Tech will add 25,000 square feet of space for students and administrators.

This jump in funding comes with the appointment of Geoff Collins as the new head football coach. Collins has instituted a movement to embrace the Atlanta area as a core advantage of the Tech team, and Tech fans have responded positively, both in giving to the Alexander-Tharpe Fund and in terms of fan engagement through strong season ticket sales this year. The movement, titled “404 the Culture,” uses Atlanta’s area code to represent its diverse and abundant opportunities. Collins has aggressively marketed the team on social media, with coaches and staff praising individual players and representing team culture. Collins has also spearheaded efforts for corporate engagement, famously bringing a Waffle House coffee cup with him to every press conference and partnering with Coca-Cola. Under Collins, Waffle House CEO Walt Ehmer and Coca-Cola vice president Jim Sanders — both Tech alumni — served as honorary coaches for Tech football’s spring game this year, representing Tech’s new, aggressive marketing strategy with heavy corporate involvement.

After running in the red last fiscal year, the Tech athletics department is in need of the incoming funds. Driven in large part by their need to fill the vacancy of former head football coach Paul Johnson, Tech Athletics operated at nearly a $10 million deficit during the 2019 fiscal year, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC). USA Today noted that Tech has underperformed with regards to revenues in previous seasons; among schools with publicly released revenue figures, Tech was second-to-last in the ACC in NCAA revenue for the 2017-2018 school year, ahead of only North Carolina State. Tech has consistently come in at the bottom of NCAA revenue among the power-five public schools.

Tech also plans to generate further revenue through a series of games played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta — starting in 2020, the Jackets will play one game each year at Mercedes-Benz, beginning with a November 14, 2020 tilt against Notre Dame. Tech will play further games at Mercedes-Benz against Clemson and undetermined ACC opponents. As per the AJC, Tech believes that the games at Mercedes-Benz will generate an additional $10 million in revenue over a potential game held at Bobby Dodd.