By DAVID RUNKAssociated Press
DETROIT (AP) - Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is donating $200 million to the University of Michigan, his alma mater announced Wednesday, making it the biggest single gift in the school's history but raising questions about Ross' insistence on taxpayer funding to make improvements to his NFL team's stadium.
Ross' donation is among the largest ever given to a U.S. college or university. It will be split evenly between the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and the university's athletics department, which will rename its campus the Stephen M. Ross Athletic Campus, the school said in a statement. It brings the total amount Ross has given the school to more than $313 million.
Although the donation is a huge boon to his alma mater, it will make it more difficult for Ross to seek taxpayer help for the $350 million improvements he wants to make to the Dolphins' stadium, said Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College in Northampton, Mass.
"It strikes me as peculiar timing that Mr. Ross decided to have this made known as this time," Zimbalist said. "If I were in Miami, then I would have additional questions about why he needed public funding for his stadium."
House Speaker Will Weatherford, who killed Ross' plan by not putting it up for a vote, declined to comment on the Michigan donation. But Miami documentary filmmaker Billy Corben, a critic of Ross' stadium plan, tweeted: "Props on @MiamiDolphins owner's generous donation. He can do whatever he wants with his money. He can't do whatever he wants with ours."
Ross has said an upgrade of the 26-year-old stadium is needed if Miami is to host future Super Bowls and college championship games. He says the Dolphins are already heavily in debt and one of the NFL's most leveraged teams, making upgrades impossible without taxpayer help.
Last spring, Ross sought up to $289 million from an increase in the Miami-Dade County hotel tax and up to $90 million in state sales tax rebates, but the Florida Legislature turned down his plan.
In a statement, Ross said the donation and stadium issue are different subjects.
"I think it is important to be committed to both," Ross said. "As I've often said, I've promised to pay a large portion of the stadium upgrade costs, but the community who would substantially benefit also needs to be involved. I also think it's extremely important to be a good citizen from a philanthropic standpoint, and to set an example for others to do the same. Both commitments are important to me and both have the potential to leave a lasting legacy that will benefit so many people."
A New York real estate developer, Ross has a net worth estimated at more than $4 billion. He graduated from Michigan in 1962, and completed his purchase of the Dolphins and their stadium in early 2009.
The athletics campus in Ann Arbor is expected to be named the Stephen M. Ross Athletic Campus.
"Stephen Ross' vision has always been about the ability of facilities to transform the human experience," Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman said in the statement. "He understands the power of well-conceived spaces, and his generosity will benefit generations of Michigan students, faculty and coaches."
According to lists from The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Ross' gift is the third biggest to a higher education facility in 2013. Earlier this year, it was announced that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg would donate $350 million to Johns Hopkins University, and in July the A. Eugene Brockman Charitable Trust gave a $250 million donation to Centre College in Kentucky.
Ross' $200 million donation is among the 30 single largest donations to a U.S. college or university, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
In Michigan, specific projects will be announced in the coming months, the school said. In addition, scholarships will be available to Ross students.
The Ross School of Business proposes to create new spaces for students to study, collaborate and connect with each other, faculty and potential employers. Classrooms will include advanced technology to support in-person and virtual collaboration.
With the additional funding, University of Michigan Athletics plans to improve its campus to help athletes succeed on the playing field and in the classroom, improve its facilities and build sites to be a destination for local, state, national and international competitions.
"I think it means a whole lot to the university as a whole when you look at $100 million for academics and $100 million for athletics," Michigan coach Brady Hoke told reporters Wednesday.
Hoke said he spoke Wednesday with Ross.
"I'll be honest with you. The only thing he wanted to talk about was Jordan Kovacs being on his team," Hoke said.
Kovacs, a former Wolverines defensive back, earned a spot on the Dolphins' practice squad earlier this week as an undrafted free agent.
Associated Press writer Gary Fineout in Tallahassee, Fla., and AP Sports writers Larry Lage in Ann Arbor and Steven Wine in Miami contributed to this report.
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