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ODAF Raised a Record $16.1 Million in 2018

By Harry Minium

The prospect of a renovated S.B. Ballard football stadium enticed Old Dominion University athletic boosters to donate money in record amounts in 2018.

The Old Dominion Athletic Foundation, ODU's athletic fundraising organization, raised a record $16.1 million last year, said Jena Virga, senior associate athletic director.

That's more than the $12.3 million ODAF raised in 2017 and far more than the $9.6 million raised in 2016, Virga said.

The 2018 total is impressive among mid-major schools.

For instance, James Madison University, which has a nationally prominent Football Championship Subdivision program but is otherwise comparable to ODU, raised $4.5 million in 2017-2018 school year.

Central Florida, which has the nation's most successful mid-major Football Bowl Subdivision program, raised $17.3 million in 2017, the season in which the Knights finished unbeaten and defeated Auburn in the Peach Bowl.

Much of the new money came from alumni and boosters who made donations to help pay for the $67.5 million renovation of Ballard Stadium.

Barry Kornblau, an alumnus from Richmond, donated $3 million to the effort. Dennis Ellmer, a Norfolk native who owns the Priority Automotive chain, also gave $1.5 million to help pay for a luxury club on the stadium's west side.

President John R. Broderick played a key role in ODAF's fundraising success. Kornblau and Ellmer said Broderick asked them to donate to the stadium.

Richmond alumnus donates $3 million for ODU stadium

"John wanted me to do it and Alonzo wanted me to do it," Kornblau said of Alonzo Brandon, ODU's vice president of university advancement. "I had to think about it for a month, but when John asks you to do something, it's a request you take seriously."

The Priority Automotive Club, as the new stadium club will be known, also enticed donors, Virga said.

Dennis Ellmer donates $1.5 million for stadium club

ODU has 26 luxury suites and 390 loge seats in the north end zone that have been sold out since the University began playing football in 2009. But Ballard Stadium has long been one of the few FBS venues without premium seating on the sidelines.

That will change this fall when the Priority Automotive Club opens with 388 seats.

ODAF is restricting buyers to one set of four tickets per season for $7,500 to the new club because of limited seating. Virga said the University has sold 270 seats.

"There is a pent-up demand for premium seating, especially premium sideline seating," Virga said. "That's something we've never been able to offer."

Associate Athletic Director for Development Drew Turner said in addition to the $7,500 price of tickets, every donor was asked to make a "significant" stadium donation.

"So far, everyone has agreed to make a donation," Turner said.

ODAF pledged to pay for $7.5 million of the stadium cost and has raised $7.7 million, Turner said.

The General Assembly passed a law in 2015 intended to reduce the percentage of student fees being used to pay for athletics. ODU was given 10 years to get down to 55 percent.

Broderick challenged Athletic Director Wood Selig and ODAF officials at the time to broaden the fundraising base. ODU has more than doubled its fundraising since then.

Selig said ODU met the 55 percent requirement last school year. ODU is renovating Ballard Stadium without raising student fees.

"Our fundraisers have done an amazing job," Selig said. "But the real credit goes to the local individuals who have stepped up and answered our requests for financial assistance. We're fortunate to have so much generous support."

Selig said officials have begun discussing a potential phase 2 of construction. Phase 1 includes the demolition and replacement of the east and west stands, including a new press box, more comfortable seats and upgrades to fan amenities, including restrooms and concessions areas.

ODU did not have the money to upgrade or replace the 5,000 seats in the north end zone. Selig said officials are having informal discussions about when and how to replace them. He said phase 2 would be funded by the private sector.

Selig praised ODU's fundraisers.

"We've got a lot of young fundraisers, but they are hungry and hard-charging and do a great job of telling our story," he said.

Virga said a series of upset victories by ODU teams also spurred donations. In one of the biggest shockers in college football history, the Monarchs upended No. 13 Virginia Tech in September. The men's basketball team won at No. 25 Syracuse in December.

ODU's Olympic sports also did well, with men's soccer team (a 1-1 tie with No. 1 North Carolina), women's field hockey (2-1 upset victory at No. 8 Virginia) and wrestling (30-10 upset at No. 11 Northwestern) also having success against Power 5 opponents.

"We want to become a nationally prominent program, and when you have victories against Virginia Tech and Syracuse, it shows our vision can become a reality," Virga said. "We're so close, and sometimes resources can make all the difference."

ODU athletes also had a record year in the classroom, according to a letter Virga sent to ODAF members. In the 2017-2018 school year, more than 35 percent of athletes were on the dean's list and the cumulative grade-point average for athletes was 3.03, the best ever, she wrote.

"We're proud of our competitive success on the field," Virga said. "But we're most proud of our academic success."

ODAF is also ahead of schedule on a $40 million fundraising campaign that was part of an overall, $250 million campaign announced two years ago by Broderick.

Turner said ODU has raised $30 million in a little more than two years.

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