John Ross Ferrara / Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017 @ 6:57 a.m. / HSU, LoCO Sports!, Our Culture, Sports
HSU’S FOOTBALL FUTURE: Memo to President Lisa Rossbacher Details Disastrous Fundraising Effort, Extensive Conflicts With Boosters That Likely Flubbed Efforts to Save Lumberjack Football
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A Humboldt State University internal memo suggests that strife between boosters and the university has cast a great deal of doubt on the future of Humboldt State’s football program.
Humboldt State President Lisa Rossbacher will soon make an official announcement about the program’s survival beyond the 2017 season, which ended earlier this month.
The six-page report details the behind-the-scenes chaos that went on between boosters and administrators as they attempted to work together to square the athletics department budget — which currently faces an annual shortfall of $1 million — and save the school’s football team from the chopping block. But it now appears that the fundraiser was marred by unrealistic goals, last-minute organizing, tight deadlines, fake contributions and, from the university’s perspective, a lack of professionalism from boosters. (Find the report here.)
“Our conclusion is that the fund drive has failed to reach its goal, instead achieving a level of approximately $300,000 in verifiable offers of support,” the memo reads. “As you know, athletics boosters released an alternative tally on November 22 pointing to $476,000 in offers of support for the first year and $350,000 in later years. This tally was not validated according to our agreed-to process and continued to rely on offers when we are weeks past the established deadline for cash in hand.”
The conflict reportedly began over the summer, when the university first alerted a small group of boosters to the athletics department’s financial woes during a private meeting. The memo states that an initial fundraising plan was devised during the meeting that would have secretly secured donations of $350,000 for the next five years from select boosters. After this initial “quiet phase,” a “public phase” would have presumably kicked in on Oct. 9, to raise the additional $150,000 needed to reach the annual goal of $500,000 — an amount that would be matched by the university to reach the $1 million goal.
But things reportedly soured early between administrators and boosters, slowing fundraising efforts and complicating the process.
“Unfortunately, the initial meetings with the group of athletics boosters grew contentious and, as a result of extended negotiations, the fundraising effort did not gain momentum until September,” the memo reads.
Boosters also leaked the “quiet phase” of the plan to the Times-Standard, which — according to the report — ruined the university’s chances of quietly raising a majority of the funds before announcing the need for donations to the general public.
“In addition, premature media coverage emanating from meetings with the athletics booster group eliminated the opportunity for a ‘quiet phase’ feasibility test,” the memo reads. “Extensive press coverage and social postings with derogatory comments about HSU Athletics, the fund drive and HSU administration hampered efforts throughout the fund drive. As frustrations mounted, trust and clarity among the group of Athletics boosters was diminished.”
Tension between boosters and administrators continued after a private list of former HSU student athletes was handed over to select boosters for fundraising purposes when they expressed frustrations that the university had lost contact with its student-athlete alums.
“In response, the university reviewed a full list of former athletes, including an indication of the range of their lifetime total giving to HSU with some members of the Athletics booster group,” the memo states. “Prior to sharing this information volunteers were required to sign a standard confidentiality agreement. They accepted responsibility for keeping confidential all private information and acknowledging that the information was being provided to them solely for use in their role as a volunteer for the HSU Advancement Foundation and for use only to conduct Foundation business.”
But the university says that the list was then used by boosters for inappropriate fundraising purposes not associated with HSU’s Athletics Department.
“Unfortunately, the private information that had been shared with the group of athletics boosters was subsequently used in ways that were not consistent with the confidentiality agreement making it unwise for HSU to share additional information (e.g. current donor pledges and information) with the Athletics boosters,” the memo reads. “Despite the confidentiality agreement, the private information was used to solicit contributions to the Rotary Club of Arcata Sunrise Community Foundation, to a GoFundMe site not affiliated with HSU, and to an unincorporated group called Save HSU Athletics.”
The memo states that donors and boosters eventually fractured into a separate group not affiliated with HSU called “Save HSU Athletics.” From there, the university claims a website was created that falsely suggested it had ties to the university, and directed potential donor checks to a private P.O. box. While the memo states that boosters claim to have received $30,000 worth of donations from this website, HSU says it hasn’t seen a dime of it.
“At HSU’s request, the Save HSU Athletics website was modified and the group has been asked by HSU to forward any contributions intended for HSU,” the memo reads. “Thus far, no contributions have been forwarded to HSU.”
In addition to the missing pledges that were supposedly diverted through the outside website, the university states that numerous phony pledges adding up to more than $120,000 were submitted to the HSU’s official website, giving an inaccurate picture of how much money was actually being raised.
“At the request of the Athletics boosters, HSU provided a website for individuals to commit their support along with a graphic pledge thermometer to show progress,” the memo states. “In order to avoid duplication of effort or double counting, it was agreed that the online pledge page would be the official tally for the fundraising effort. Almost immediately, the online pledge page was the target of multiple false entries, some of them for large amounts.”
The university, which has since taken down the pledge tracker web page, says that it responded to these fake pledges by checking the numbers and emails of the supposed donors.
“In response, HSU began attempting to validate pledges as they were made and found false entries, including bad email addresses and telephone number and names that could not be verified in University or online databases,” the memo says. “As a consequence of the false entries, the online pledge total was not reliable. It showed more than was actually collected in valid commitments from credible sources.”
Amid all of this confusion, boosters were unable to reach the $500,000 goal by the agreed to Nov. 1 deadline. And although hundreds of thousands of dollars are believed to have been raised, the university states in the memo that when fake pledges, uncollectable pledges and redundant pledges from the “Save HSU Athletics” page are factored in, the amount of money raised is estimated to be less than $400,000 for the first year and much less than that for the following five.
“Ultimately the Nov. 1 goal was not achieved (i.e. the collection of $500,000 in cash plus an additional $2.0 million payable at $500,000 each year for four years),” the report reads. “Consequently, these resources were not available when the President began her consultative process with the Chancellor, Associated Students, University Senate and the Cabinet and the University budget committee (URPC). The Athletics booster group continued to solicit pledges after November 1 and HSU continued to update the pledge thermometer until November 15, by which time there were significant concerns about the total shown by the thermometer.”
While President Rossbacher has yet to announce her final decision regarding the future of the football program and the Athletics Department in general, it seems highly unlikely, based on the information in this memo, that the HSU will have a football team in the very near future.
- ‘Subject: Athletics Community Fund Drive.” Nov. 27 memo from HSU Vice President for Advancement Craig Wruck to HSU President Lisa Rossbacher.