The following is from the Oct. 26, 2007, edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education. SMU President R. Gerald Turner was interviewed for this story.

As Athletics Donations Go Up,
Some Leaders Fret Over Booster Interference


With more private money coming into college sports, concern is growing about how much influence boosters have in intercollegiate athletics.

Some college leaders worry that athletics departments could run afoul of NCAA rules or face other problems because many boosters are disconnected from higher education.

"There's just so much money around athletics programs," says R. Gerald Turner, president of Southern Methodist University and co-chair of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. "When there's all that money, you have to worry about people who care nothing about the institution but are absolutely devoted to that program's winning."

Many athletics departments spend time educating donors about NCAA rules that limit their contact with athletes. The majority of boosters seem to be getting the message, as the number of high-profile cases of booster interference has dipped in recent years.

But some boosters still meddle. One former college president says donors occasionally want something in return for their contributions.

"When people contribute big bucks, sometimes they expect to provide not only advice, but direction," says William V. Muse, a former president of Auburn University who butted heads with a prominent booster during his time there. "I suspect it's human nature to feel if you've given a whole bunch of money, you not only want to be listened to, but want whatever suggestions you've made to be implemented."

Many boosters also view themselves as majority stockholders in a company, says Drew Wilkinson, an athletics donor at Louisiana State University.

"If the team's losing," he says, "that means the stock's going in the wrong direction, and they'll demand a change in leadership."

Mr. Turner says administrators and athletics officials need to keep a close eye on donors who make large contributions but expect a return on their investment.

"If you're not vigilant," he says, "it can quickly get out of control."

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