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Which Mountain West schools do the best job at landing donations?

Fresno State
Fresno State and Boise State battle on the football field as well as for the title of best fundraising department in the Mountain West. (Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images)

Athletic directors have two main jobs. Hire good coaches and raise lots of money. There's obviously other tasks involved with running a Division I athletic department, which isn't an easy job, but if you hire coaches who win games and are good in culling donations, most everything else takes care of itself. So which Mountain West school does the best job at raising money via donations? USA Today refreshed its athletic department finance database earlier this month with fiscal year 2019 numbers. The figures are provided by the schools via their NCAA reports, and I always caution schools can play fast and loose with reporting financial figures. But donations are pretty clear cut. Here are the MW rankings for donations raised in fiscal year 2019.

Fiscal year 2019

1. Boise State, $12,662,391

2. Wyoming, $10,844,094

3. Fresno State, $9,768,812

4. Colorado State, $9,482,232

5. UNLV, $7,320,082

6. Nevada, $6,914,931

7. San Diego State, $6,673,651

8. Utah State, $6,469,402

9. New Mexico, $4,385,068

10. Air Force, $4,294,586

11. San Jose State, $1,831,978

The MW average last fiscal year was $7,331,566 in donations per school, so Nevada fell a little more than $400,000 below that. There aren't any crazy surprises above. Boise State has always raised a ton of money, and Wyoming gets to canvas the whole state because it's the only Division I department in "The Equality State." Fresno State was a little higher than I figured it'd be. UNLV might be underachieving a little given its huge population. San Diego State also had a poor fundraising year. The most disappointing school is New Mexico, which finished ninth out of 11 schools.

It's important to note not all donations are pure donations. Most season tickets in football and men's basketball have mandatory donations ("seat premiums") attached to them, so they count as donations but aren't what I'd call a real donation. If you want a season ticket, you have to pay the donation. As a result, schools with larger season-ticket bases (like Boise State and Fresno State in football and San Diego State and Nevada in basketball) are boosted. Additionally, some fundraisers (like the Governor's Dinner, Blue Tie Ball and Bobby Dolan Dinner at Nevada) fall into that donation category as well.

The numbers above are only a one-year sample size, so I also took the last five fiscal years (FY15-FY19) and averaged the annual donations per school, which is more informative than looking at simply one year. Here are those results.

Five-year donation average

1. Boise State, $9,670,499

2. Fresno State, $8,727,703

3. San Diego State, $8,509,729

4. UNLV, $8,167,611

5. New Mexico, $7,982,953

6. Wyoming, $7,649,252

7. Nevada, $7,500,259

8. Colorado State, $5,523,433

9. Utah State, $4,454,250

10. Air Force, $3,966,122

11. San Jose State, $1,773,524

Boise State still comes out on top. The Broncos have raised at least $10 million in donations in six of the last seven seasons, the lone exception coming in 2015 when it had only $4,409,017 in donations. Not sure what happened there. Fresno State still punches above its weight, placing second. San Diego State looks much better in the five-year sample than the one-year data. UNLV also gets a boost. Wyoming and Utah State fall a little. Colorado State falls a lot. Air Force gets so much government money it doesn't have to raise large stacks of money via donations. New Mexico has the most disturbing donation trend. From 2013-17, a five-year period, the Lobos averaged just shy of $10 million in donations a year ($9,804,624). In the last two fiscal years, New Mexico has reported donation totals of $5,417,184 in FY18 and $4,385,068 in FY19.

As for Nevada, the Wolf Pack is middle of the pack in both the single-year and five-year sample sizes. Under athletic director Doug Knuth, Nevada had averaged $6,574,907 in donations a year. His predecessor, Cary Groth, averaged $4,836,023 in donations a year. Nevada's growth is basically in line with other MW schools. The Wolf Pack is more dependent on donations than other MW departments because only 32.95 percent of its budget comes from university, state and student fees. That's the second-lowest total in the league behind Boise State's 29.69 percent. The MW average is 47.1 percent.

Finally, there's San Jose State, which comes in last in basically everything in the conference. It's no different in donations. The Spartans earned only $1,831,978 in donations in FY19, which was almost $2.5 million less than the second-worst school (Air Force). Over the five-year sample size, San Jose State's average donation total of $1,773,524 is almost $2.2 million shy of the second-worst school. Poor San Jose State.

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