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#BulldogBornBulldogBred is a popular hashtag. Here is what to add to that: BulldogBacker

Before strong Red Wave presence, Fresno State makes history with Las Vegas Bowl win

Fresno State defeats Arizona State 31-20 to win the Mitsubishi Las Vegas Bowl championship. The Bulldogs won their 12th game, the most ever in program history.
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Fresno State defeats Arizona State 31-20 to win the Mitsubishi Las Vegas Bowl championship. The Bulldogs won their 12th game, the most ever in program history.

There ‘s nothing like Red Wave excitement inside Bulldog Stadium on a fall afternoon or Save Mart Center on a winter’s night.

But beyond the thrills of football and basketball games is an even more important contest being waged at Fresno State: The drive for financial supporters.

As reported by Bee staff writer Robert Kuwada, Fresno State’s program for funding both scholarships and daily living expenses of student athletes is at a critical juncture. On the one hand, the Bulldog Foundation raised more than $4 million last year, the most in a decade.

However, the foundation needs twice that much this year to become financially stable and not have to rely on shoring up revenues from the university’s regular budget.

The aim now is to secure a host of new donors who would be willing to give at least $100 — the price of two of the cheapest tickets for football season.

Fresno State women's basketball tops Colorado State 57-54 in Mountain West action Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019 in Fresno

For those who can afford it, those tickets are well worth the cost, and yield benefits greater than a few hours of live entertainment. Fresno State sports help keep the community connected to the university, a relationship that is priceless given how important the school is to the health and vitality of the central San Joaquin Valley.

Like anything else, the cost of college has been rising. In 2015 Fresno State budgeted $5.6 million for scholarships. This year that has jumped to $8.1 million.

In addition to scholarships, the athletics department gives “cost of attendance” stipends to student athletes to help them pay for miscellaneous living expenses — gas money, monthly cell phone charges, food costs beyond the basics covered by scholarships. This school year the stipend averages $3,500 per student athlete. Such stipends are a standard in most collegiate athletic programs.

In the last three years the foundation has lost about $4 million in its net position. Besides rising costs, some of that expense resulted in the addition of two new sports — men’s wrestling and women’s water polo. Altogether, Fresno State has 21 sports programs, second most in the Mountain West conference, only behind Air Force.

Nate Grimes sets a Save Mart Center record with 19 rebounds and Braxton Huggins added 8 as Fresno State wins big against New Mexico on Saturday. Now tied against Utah State the Bulldogs with face off with the Aggies on Tuesday.

President Joseph Castro has made it clear he wants to keep fielding the full lineup of teams, so cutting sports is not an option. Putting money behind his philosophy, Castro gave athletics $3.6 million over the last two years to keep the budget afloat. The 2018-19 athletics budget is $41.4 million; when Castro arrived in 2013-14, it was $26.3 million. Institutional support went from $5.3 million in 2013-14 to $14.8 million in the current year.

In terms of giving, Fresno State has dedicated donors. Their combined giving places Fresno State in the upper half of Mountain West schools. But the total number of donors to Bulldog athletics — 2,500, according to the department — leaves Fresno State in the bottom half of the conference in that statistic.

Hence the drive to increase the number of donors. Tim Collins, a newly hired senior associate athletics director for development, puts it this way: A new supporter could donate $8.34 a month, the approximate cost of two lattes, to reach the $100 target.

Someone who commits to that level of giving may, in the course of a year, become interested in seeing a play put on by drama students or a recital by the musical department. Being connected might lead another to make a trip to the Gibson Market on campus to buy some Fresno State ice cream or wine, in addition to meats, milk and sweet corn — products of the agriculture school.

Just how important is Fresno State to our region? Consider these statistics:

90 percent of Fresno State students are from the Central Valley; more than half are from Fresno County.

Nearly 70 percent are the first in their families to attend college.

Almost 6,000 graduate each year. Of those, 80 percent remain in the Valley, where they put their education and new skills to use.

The popular social media hashtag is #BulldogBornBulldogBred. To that, add BulldogBacker.

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