Mat Ishbia, former basketball player, makes $32M donation to Michigan State athletics

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Just weeks after Mat Ishbia took United Wholesale Mortgage public, the former walk-on basketball player at Michigan State is giving back to his alma mater.

On Thursday, Michigan State University announced the president and CEO of the nation’s No. 1 wholesale mortgage lender is donating $32 million to the school’s athletic program, the largest single cash commitment in MSU's history from an individual.

Mat Ishbia, president/CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage, donated $32 million to Michigan State University athletics, it was announced Thursday.

“On behalf of the university, we are deeply grateful to Mat and his generosity and significant commitment to a place that clearly had a strong impact on his life,” said MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. “This is the testimony of being a Spartan – of hard work and giving back to help all Spartans also have a transformational experience at our institution.”

Ishbia, who became a billionaire after taking his company public Jan. 22, was a member of the 2000 national championship team at Michigan State and is a 2003 graduate of the Eli Broad College of Business. He credits much of his success in business to lessons learned playing for Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo. During his time with the Spartans, Ishbia was a three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree and a member of three straight Big Ten Championship (1999-2001) and Final Four (1999-2001) teams.

“This donation is not about me,” Ishbia said. “This is to give credit to and thank coach Tom Izzo, the business school and Michigan State University for the incredible impact they have had on my life.”

The largest portion of the Ishbia commitment — $20 million — will be go toward the football program, providing resources to construct a performance zone in an expansion of the Skandalaris Football Center which will include improving the football auditorium, expanding the weight room and creating new player lockers, informal meeting spaces as well a dining and nutrition area.

 “Facilities show a commitment to excellence,” football coach Mel Tucker said. “Mat’s gift will make a profound impact on our program and is a statement that Michigan State is relentless about excellence, both on and off the field, in our pursuit of championships.

“Recruits and student-athletes are comparing our campus and our facilities to the other top programs in the country. Thanks to Mat’s generosity and vision, we will have a state-of-the-art football facility that will be among the best in the nation. We’re incredibly excited to unveil these enhancements in the near future.”

The donation also will set aside $2 million for the men’s basketball Excellence Fund to be used at Izzo’s discretion while Ishbia also intends to honor his former coach by requesting the performance zone at the Skandalaris Football center as well as the basketball court at the Breslin Center be named after Tom Izzo.

Izzo spoke briefly on Thursday afternoon during a press conference looking ahead to Michigan State's next game on Saturday against Nebraska and said, "Words can't express," how he feels about Ishbia's gesture.

"What Mat Ishbia has done for our university and for our program and for me, in particular, is about as humbling and as sort of tear-jerking as anything that has happened to me," Izzo said.

Earlier, in a statement announcing the donation, Izzo reflected on Ishbia's journey from basketball walk-on to successful business leader.

“From the first day he joined our basketball team and in the years following, I’ve watched Mat continue to make an impact for the betterment of others, taking the lessons he learned at Michigan State and instilling them in his company,” Izzo said. “Every day, as a member of the team, Mat wanted to improve himself and others around him, knowing that on every successful team, just as in business, everyone has a part to play. He has never relented that attitude. 

“This gift speaks volumes to Mat’s character and the way he runs his business today; always focusing on creating a family atmosphere and being there for one another. His generosity will benefit the Spartan family for years to come, enriching the lives of so many Spartans well beyond their time at Michigan State. I am honored and humbled by his gift and thankful for his philanthropy, but I am more proud of the man he is. Mat’s parents always supported Mat throughout his college career, as Mat has done with his own kids, and with his gift he will support the life journey of so many more Spartans. Like me, he’s been lucky enough to live his dreams. Today he’s helping countless Spartans to live theirs. ”

Another $2 million of Ishbia’s commitment will create the Spartans For Life Fund focused on leadership and career development to serve as a springboard to help all student-athletes find employment after graduation and to assist with life-long career opportunities.

The residual amount of the commitment will create the MSU Athletics Excellence Fund to both provide flexible, unrestricted resources that can address needs and take advantage of new opportunities as they arise.

“MSU Athletics is extraordinarily grateful for Mat’s transformative gift, which is an example of bringing our mission to life,” athletics director Bill Beekman said. “Mat’s gift will forever enhance our department’s ability to ‘provide opportunities for our student-athletes to succeed academically, athletically, and in their life’s pursuit.’  Years from now, we will point back to this truly historic day as a catalyst for broad success.”

A fan favorite during his days on the basketball court, Isbhia has had his greatest success in the business world.

On Wednesday, United Wholesale Mortgage Holdings Corp. recorded a profit of $3.38 billion in 2020, more than seven times its net income last year as low interest rates spurred refinancing activity.

The Pontiac-based mortgage lender shared its financial results for the first time since going public last month on the New York Stock Exchange in a $16.1 billion merger with a blank-check company. It closed 69% more in origination volume, a key market indicator, than in 2019, totaling a record $182.5 billion.

That volume places UWM, the country's largest wholesale mortgage lender originating loans exclusively through mortgage brokers, at No. 4 in overall originations nationally behind Detroit-based Rocket Companies Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., and California-based PennyMac Financial Services Inc., according to industry news website Inside Mortgage Finance.

Breana Noble contributed to this report.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau