As word began to trickle out earlier this week about longtime booster Barry Gossett's latest gift to the University of Maryland, most assumed that it would help pay down the debt for the $196 million Cole Field House project.
Gossett, who along with his wife Mary gave $10 million in 2007 to build the football team house that now bears their name, will now be helping the school's athletes in a different way.
At a campus event Thursday morning, it was announced that their $21.25 million donation will help establish the Barry and Mary Gossett Center for Academic and Personal Excellence.
"This remarkable gift will give our student-athletes the best support available to succeed academically, further their personal growth and tackle the unique challenges they face," university president Wallace D. Loh said in a statement released in advance of the announcement.
In a phone interview about his family's donation — one of the largest in school history — Gossett said athletes are often at a disadvantage in their ability to secure internships while in school and full-time jobs after graduating because of the demanding schedules surrounding their commitments to their teams.
"I want this really to support the student part of student-athletes," Gossett said. "That's the purpose of it. The athletes sometimes are handicapped because they're going to [summer] classes and can't get internships, so this will try to help them get some of those opportunities."
According to a release sent out Thursday by the university, the Gossett Center will help athletes in "developing personal, career and development goals" that will allow them not only to graduate but also to leave College Park well-qualified in their respective fields.
Rising juniors will be eligible to be selected for the Gossett Fellows Program, which is geared to providing paid summer internships. It will help athletes stay on what the center calls "The Path" toward being hired for jobs after they graduate.
The second phase of the program — "The Bridge" — will focus on teaming athletes with professional mentors in their transitions to careers outside of sports. Athletes in "The Bridge" are eligible to receive a Gossett Award to help pay for everything from graduate school to service trips to starting ventures, according to the release.
The third phase — "The Horizon" — will keep former athletes connected to those who follow them in College Park through the Terps Career Network, with the former athletes serving as mentors themselves and returning for job fairs as well as other events on campus.
"We are committed to supporting our student-athletes not only through our premier athletic program, but by producing graduates who are prepared to serve as leaders in local state and global communities," acting athletic director Damon Evans said in the statement. "Through the programs provided by the Gossett Center, we will be positioned better than ever to recruit and retain world-class athletes by supporting their athletic and academic careers from the moment they step on campus to well after graduation."
The Gossett Center programs will begin in the fall.
Gossett's gift follows the $25 million pledge Under Armour CEO and chairman Kevin Plank, who played football at Maryland, made last year to help fund the Cole Field House project. The athletic department is in the process of trying to raise an additional $19 million to help defray an added $41 million because of an increased scope of the project.
Gossett, who will turn 78 on Monday, has a long connection to Maryland. Despite having to drop out as a junior in the spring of 1961 in order to support his family after his father passed away, Gossett has been a presence on campus for decades.
Gossett currently serves as vice chairman of the Board of Regents for the University System of Maryland System. He previously served as chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Maryland, College Park Foundation.
"When I turned 75, I joked that I wanted to go back [to get my degree], but I didn't want to sit for any exams to get admitted because I probably couldn't," Gossett said in his typical self-deprecating deadpan.
Along with the gift that helped the football team move from its antiquated building to a more updated facility 11 years ago, Gossett also contributed $5 million to the new state-of-the-art indoor practice facility that opened last summer inside Cole Field House, which used to be one of the most historic college basketball arenas in the country.
After becoming a certified public accountant and working in the field for seven years, Gossett worked for Williams Mobile Offices from 1969 through 2002, then later purchased the company as it became Acton Mobile, which made mobile units for construction sites. The company was purchased by Williams Scotsman in December in a $235 million all-cash deal.
Gossett said his latest contribution to Maryland is "sort of my legacy gift" from his personal estate. As much as he supports Maryland's athletes, he is interested in their lives after their college careers end.
"It's not just to help them get their degrees, it's to prepare them for life after school," Gossett said. "This is a program that will help a lot of people. My hope is that other people will contribute to this so it can cover more of the student-athletes but also serve as a model program for other students, not just student-athletes."
Those who know the quiet, bespectacled businessman believe that unlike many other big-time athletic boosters, Gossett rarely calls attention to himself and would rather work behind the scenes.
One longtime Maryland booster recently referred to Gossett as a "godsend" for the financially strapped athletic department, as well as to the university as a whole.
"Barry is one of the most unassuming, nonegotistical, down-to-earth gentlemen you could possibly meet," said Thomas McCausland, a South Florida attorney who has been a longtime financial supporter of the Maryland football program. "I mean this from the bottom of my heart. If Maryland didn't have Barry Gossett, I don't know where they'd be. He has been a generous friend and supporter, and he wants nothing in return. He's just a straight [shooting] guy who believes in and loves Maryland."
In the statement, Loh added, "Barry and Mary Gossett have always been there for our students, but their generosity and vision in funding this center will leave a lasting imprint on young lives."