This week Eastern Michigan University opened a brand new training facility for its 436 student athletes.
The Student-Athlete Performance Center is the first major construction project for EMU athletes in 20 years.
But the athletic department still hasn’t raised enough money to pay for its portion of the bill.
At a ribbon cutting ceremony this week, EMU football coach Chris Creighton said this new training facility is already making a difference in recruiting student athletes. There are new locker rooms, a players’ lounge, hydrotherapy pools and a giant new scoreboard on top.
“It’s a big deal for all of us and it’s a big deal for the future. It’s a big deal for this department and it’s a big deal for all of Eastern Michigan University!” Creighton roared.
Board of Regents Chairman James Webb thanked athletic department staff for their efforts to raise money for the new building.
“This is being built completely with donor dollars. We’re not taking anything from the general fund,” Webb said.
Problem is, that’s just not true.
Eastern’s Board of Regents borrowed the money to pay for this and a few other renovation projects on campus. The board plans to use $8 million from the general fund for this athletic building.
The remaining $12 million dollars is supposed to come from donors. So far, EMU’s athletic department has raised only half of that money that it’s on the hook for.
EMU spokesman Geoff Larcom says the athletic department is still committed to raising the money but “isn’t aware” of any deadline to do that.
There’s been a debate at Eastern about how much tuition and general fund dollars should be used to subsidize athletics.
When the Board of Regents approved the project in 2017, there was some resistance.
MLive reported then-Student Government President Miles Payne and Vice President Larry Borum pressed EMU to raise at least $18 million of the $20 million cost through donations.
"We want athletics to be successful, but there are other places of the campus that are simply in need and need to be prioritized first," Payne said.
"I am firm at this point that the students do not need more athletics (spending)," he added.
At first Eastern unveiled an even bigger, more expensive plan to upgrade athletics. That was in March of 2017 under former athletic director Heather Lyke.
That’s when EMU’s athletic department announced the largest cash pledge in the school’s history: $6 million.
But Lyke left EMU just two weeks after this record breaking pledge was publicized. Emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show the donor, a graduate named Keith Stone, raised big red flags soon after.
“For this to continue to move forward in anyway (sic) or if it gets approved in April there will ‘need’ to be some ‘new’ talks and details discussed ‘prior’ to any Regents approval, as it relates to ‘our involvement,'” Stone wrote to EMU president James Smith on March 21, 2017.
“[Heather Lyke’s] departure is leaving me ‘very concerned’ on many fronts as we feel very limited in our/my contacts/details at the University, outside yourself. Not at all comfortable here with the chain of events and timing,” Stone concluded.
Soon after, it became clear Stone was not following through on his pledge. He does not give EMU $6 six million dollars. EMU doesn’t disclose this because, as a rule, they generally don’t discuss donor relationships publically, Geoff Larcom said.
A year ago, Stone sold his corporate payment company for $600 million dollars. Michigan Radio has been unable to contact him.
After Heather Lyke’s departure, EMU hired a new athletic director and did a reset of sorts. In the summer of 2017 they announced a scaled down athletics project. The Board of Regents approved it in December and did not disclose the Keith Stone donation wasn’t coming through.
“The key to understanding this is they stand as two different exercises in time,” Larcom said.
Both visions were to improve athletic facilities at EMU. In written materials EMU has, at times, called both visions the Championship Building Plan. But Larcom said they're not the same vision.
“They’re not the same project,” Larcom said. “One thing I really want to make clear is that the University at no time misrepresented itself publicly."
Reached by phone, Lyke declined to comment about Stone pulling his gift. “I don’t work there anymore,” she said.