It’s not exactly a bake sale or a car wash, but Kentucky women’s basketball has been doing some fund raising of sorts trying to offset the cost of its international tour this summer.
In a letter sent out to fans and boosters this month, Matthew Mitchell sought donations for the Cats’ upcoming trip to Italy in August.
“For this trip to be a successful, we need your help financially sponsoring our players on this journey,” the Kentucky coach wrote in the letter discussing the UK women’s first foreign tour in 17 years.
“An ALL-IN sponsorship from you would be a $5,000 gift, which would cover 100% of one player’s trip! What a rewarding feeling to know you are responsible for giving a young woman the gift of a trip of a lifetime!”
With rising costs — specifically travel costs for teams — will this sort of letter become a regular approach in college athletics? Or, specifically, at Kentucky?
“I don’t think it’s really a new norm,” Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart told the Herald-Leader when asked about the letter, which has resulted in a handful of donations.
Kentucky has sought trip sponsorships like this for several other teams on international tours, the athletics director said.
“This is probably a little more visible, so I don’t think it’s a new norm,” he said. “When we’ve gone to the Bahamas or done an international trip — the volleyball team had an international tour and took some fans with them — and they paid to sponsor. We didn’t quite do it as visibly as that.”
Athletes on committees at varying levels have asked that the school keep allowing these types of trips because it enables them to “experience the world a little bit,” Barnhart said, “and see something different than what they might normally see.”
Rising expenses was one of many topics Southeastern Conference athletics administrators and coaches are discussing this week in Destin, Fla.
It was on Barnhart’s mind last week, too.
“We’ll talk about the enterprise of college athletics and keeping pace revenues to expenses, that’s a big one,” said Barnhart, who oversees a budget that was projected to be more than $130 million this year.
“We’re growing faster than we have in the past and a lot of that is things we can’t control,” he said. “Travel expenses have become difficult, cost of higher education has become significantly more.”
That’s one reason UK is looking for ways to still take trips like the ones the athletes are requesting while also looking for ways to offset the cost of those trips.
Even if Kentucky doesn’t raise another dime for the Italy trip, it will proceed as planned, a spokesman confirmed.
“If it helps us defer some expenses, that’s certainly helpful,” Barnhart said of the donations, which the letter notes are tax deductible.
The Cats are spending 10 days and nine nights in Italy in August, arriving in Rome on Aug. 4 and making stops in Florence and Venice before ending in Lake Como on Aug. 13.
While on the trip, UK will face international competition three times. Players, who will tour the Roman Colosseum and Vatican City, will get class credit for participation in the trip.
The NCAA permits these types of foreign tours every four years, but UK hasn’t taken one since a 2001 trip to France and Switzerland.
In his letter to boosters, Mitchell said the trip is not only an opportunity of a lifetime for the players, but also a way to get the team experience on the court.
Before each trip, teams are permitted 10 extra practices to prepare. Nearly a dozen women’s college programs went to Italy a year ago including Connecticut, Texas, Michigan, Florida State and Duke.
Other women’s programs reportedly went to New Zealand, France, Australia and Japan.
The programs raised funds for the trips through donors, fundraisers and the school itself, an Associated Press report said, noting that Connecticut’s trip was funded through private donations.
“The importance of these educational and athletic trips cannot be overstated,” Mitchell said in the letter. “For example, the last two times our men’s basketball team has made a foreign tour before a season it resulted in Final Four runs in April.
“We’re working hard to achieve similar results and want you to be a part of that journey with us.”