Air Force's athletic corporation thrust into grown-up role while still in infancy

March 4, 2014 Updated: March 4, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Though it is only 8 months old, the Air Force Academy Athletic Corp. needs to start supporting the family.

The nonprofit was able to save this past fall's football game at Navy, and now it faces the challenge of raising enough funds to assist athletic teams in maintaining a "margin of excellence" as budget cuts are about to strip some of these teams of all but the essentials for survival.

"Tough times like this are challenging, but what it allows us to do now is tell the story of how important fundraising is for the athletic department," CEO Dermot Coll said.

The AFAAC had existed previously under a different name, but the switch from Non-Appropriated Fund Instrumentality to 501(c)3 status in July was far more than semantics. By being able to solicit funds, the corporation was able to procure a $230,000 gift from United Services Automobile Association to allow the football team to travel to Annapolis, Md., during sequestration.

USAA wasn't the only corporation that offered help, either. Coll said Delta and United airlines also offered to save the annual game between service academies. And thanks to the nonprofit status, the structure was in place so Air Force was in position to accept those gifts.

Coll has since been able to have conversations with corporations that have stretched beyond sponsorship agreements and into the realm of donations.

And that was before this latest situation presented itself.

The hope is that a similar sense of urgency will be felt among alumni and supporters in the wake of Tuesday's announcement that the athletic department faces a 10.2 percent reduction in appropriated tax funds as well as the loss of 30 positions.

The road to nonprofit status - a model that had long been used by Navy athletics - took several years, but the timing couldn't have been better as the structure not only allows fundraising (whereas before it relied on "friend raising," as an academy official once told The Gazette) but it also allows far more freedom in using that money.

Some hurdles remain, and Coll spent much of last week in Washington addressing some of those legislative issues.

Coll said the AFAAC has not matured to the point where it could have instantly stepped in and saved "four, six, eight sports, whatever it might be," but the hope is that it can provide the financial infrastructure to provide a crutch in the future.

"Over the next two, three, four, five years, obviously there will be a different ways to operate," athletic director Hans Mueh said. "It's the wave of the future for the Air Force Academy and a way to maintain that margin of excellence that we need here to produce the officers that we want to produce. We're going to have to turn to some private funding, and AFAAC is a part of that."

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