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Donors and finances

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Posted: Sunday, July 15, 2007 10:44 am | Updated: 5:44 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

John Bebbling has long been one of the most generous givers to the Arizona State University athletic department.

The Bebbling Family Ticket Plaza sits outside Sun Devil Stadium, thanks to a $1-million pledge that is about 85 percent fulfilled.

The CEO of Tempe-based TDC Interiors, Bebbling has a devotion to ASU that runs deep. However, sometimes he feels like the school’s personal bank teller.

“It’s 'What can you do for me now?’ ” Bebbling said. “For me, $1 million is a big commitment. But what happens is that (ASU) just keeps coming after you. I still help all the time, but it’s to the point where I ask: How many times can they can keep banging on my door?”

Bebbling’s situation illustrates what ASU officials admit is their biggest challenge — increasing revenue through donations. The school is third in the Pac-10 with 8,100 donors for athletics (4,000 behind Southern California) but ninth in total fund-raising, ahead of only Washington State.

“The funding is a collar around everyone’s neck here,” associate athletic director Stephen Ponder said.

As a result, ASU keeps returning to the same donor wells.

(ASU officials declined to release a list of the biggest athletic donors. The school is a public institution, but gifts are made through the ASU Foundation, a private entity.)

ASU’s projected fiscal year 2008 budget is $41.45 million, including $10.47 million in gifts.

The school will make a $3.8-million payment on service debt from staffing and facility expenses incurred primarily during Kevin White’s tenure as athletic director from 1996-2000.

After succeeding White, former athletic director Gene Smith put on the spending brakes and pared a staff that had grown to about 190 (it is at 162 today). But more than $30 million in service debt remains, and ASU will be making payments on it until 2026.

“You can’t run a business like the athletic department was running,” said Donald Tapia, an ASU booster and CEO of Essco Wholesale Electric in Chandler.

The level of giving among alumni and former athletes has long been a concern.

ASU, school officials say, is a commuter institution, as an overwhelming majority of students live off campus and are less likely to attend sporting events. With such a limited bond to the school, many students are not generous donors after graduation.

The Sun Angel Foundation has ceased being the primary fund-raising arm, replaced by two groups: The Sun Devil Legacy Campaign (for large donations) and Sun Devil Club.

Outreach programs, including for children and former athletes, have been developed, but the fruits of that labor will take time to bear.

“We’ve needed to do a better job connecting with alumni,” said Mark Dunkerley, Sun Devil Club director of annual giving.

The department’s current budget is balanced, and an operating debt that was at $2.5 million after fiscal year 2001 has been erased. Many colleges carry a service debt, but athletic director Lisa Love said that she wants ASU to avoid adding to what it owes.

“People before me made aggressive decisions on staffing and facilities, which I understand,” Love said. “But at this time, we have bills to pay.”

Love aims to have future facilities paid for before ground is broken, or at least “be front-loaded as much as possible.”

A projected 2008-09 opening for an indoor basketball practice facility could be pushed back if funds are not raised quickly enough, and improvements to such facilities as Packard Stadium and Mona Plummer Aquatic Center have no target dates.

“All I can say is that we’re trying to raise money as fast as we can,” Love said.

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