Call it an upswing. Call it the result of a significant marketing push.

You can’t quite call it an avalanche, not in this heat. But after a start that wasn’t exactly slow — a better adjective might be wary — the figures for the University of Alabama’s Crimson Standard capital campaign for athletics are trending upward in the first five months of 2019.

The target for the campaign, which was formally announced on Aug. 16, 2018, is $600 million over the long haul, the money to be used for a three-phase, 10-year plan to upgrade UA athletic facilities. All projects are subject to approval by the UA Board of Trustees. The figures require wading into what are, for me, the muddy waters of accounting, but UA director of athletics Greg Byrne provided those figures as part of an interview last Friday.

The current total raised for the Crimson Standard Initiative from all sources, as of May 16, 2019, is $238,420,858, or nearly 40 percent of the CSI goal. That total includes money that was donated or raised for capital projects prior to last August’s announcement. Included in the $238 million are all gifts of $500,000 or more from September 2015 through Oct. 1, 2016, all Crimson Tide Foundation fundraising since October 2016 and all Tide Pride donations in the past three fiscal years.

In the three fiscal years prior to the announcement of the Crimson Standard Initiative, non-Tide Pride related giving had been, for a variety of reasons including some related to taxation, fairly flat. The total in fiscal 2015 was $23.3 million, followed by $17.4 million in fiscal 2016 and $18 million in fiscal 2017. The following year (2018), which included the Crimson Standard announcement, saw a 146 percent rise in non-Tide Pride fundraising, to a total of $44.35 million.

Through the first five months of fiscal 2019, that total has already been surpassed with a year-to-date total of $61.2 million as of May 16. In the past 18 months, the number of seven-figure donations has been 34 donors with an average donation of $2,003,478.

“We’ve been very pleased with the generosity of our donors across the board,” Byrne said. “We’ve tried to create a plan for the next 10 years where people know which direction we are headed. The response has been very strong.”

While Byrne lauded the support of Alabama fans at all levels, he said there had been a recent effort to target more high-end donors. The centerpiece of those efforts, to the surprise of no one, has been football coach Nick Saban. Despite recent hip surgery, Saban has continued to be active in the Crimson Standard efforts and to reinforce the notion that his salary — approximately $8.7 million in 2019 — remains one of the best bargains in intercollegiate athletics.

“We have had four Crimson Standard events with Coach Saban in May, two in Birmingham, one in Tuscaloosa and one in Mobile, and he has knocked it out of the park at each one of those,” Byrne said. “Those are targeted events for five-figure, six-figure and seven-figure prospects.”

“Eight-figure prospects are also welcome,” Byrne noted wryly.

Yes, there is an elephant in the room in any discussion of such huge sums these days, especially at institutions like Alabama, which sit at the top of the food chain in terms of athlete-generated wealth. That’s the compensation of athletes, which will be the subject or more columns in the near future. Just as it is in facilities, Alabama has the revenue to support direct compensation in ways that an Idaho State, say, could never imagine. Without heading down that path in this particular column, it can be pointed out that Byrne did note, under the current structure, investment in facilities is one of the ways in which schools like Alabama invest in athletes.

“Phase One of our plan includes improvements at the Mal Moore Complex, from upgrading locker rooms to improving the training and medical facilities, keeping them state-of-the-art, to adding a Sports Science Center,” Byrne said. “Also in that phase are $3 million for softball, to add some amenities that we need at Rhoads Stadium, and then improvements to the team areas — locker rooms and recruiting rooms — and the student section at Bryant-Denny Stadium.”

The new natatorium, where work was underway before the new fundraising initiatives, is on schedule for completion this year (outdoor work should be done by mid-July, and indoor work is expected to have the pools ready for swimming and diving competition in November.)

Further Bryant-Denny Stadium renovations — new scoreboards and new seating configurations, including 10 of the ultra-luxury $5 million skyboxes — are also coming (Byrne noted that lease agreements for eight of those 10 skyboxes have already been finalized or are under verbal agreement.) There will also be improvements to the golf facilities involving several million dollars, although Byrne noted that options on how to best use that funding are still being reviewed. Ultimately, there is a plan for the long-awaited and much-needed renovation of Coleman Coliseum in a later phase. The topic continues to generate a good deal of social media debate, some of it heated, but a totally new facility is still viewed by UA as too expensive.

“We think we have a very good long-range plan,” Byrne said. “We see a lot of great facilities around the country and sometimes our fans see something and say ‘why can’t we have one of those?’ But if you try to operate that way, you will always be behind someone because before you finish construction, another school has built something else. Our goal is to have the best facilities possible for our student-athletes and we think this is the best plan, which is why we are so appreciative of the support we are getting.”

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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