COLLEGE PARK – Winning isn’t everything, or the only thing, but it sure is a wonderful thing at the University of Maryland, College Park.
The school’s successful athletic program, while increasing athletic department revenues, is also paying dividends off the playing field, said university officials.
The benefits have spread across the university and College Park business community. Increased fund-raising, additional alumni support and a growing number of student admissions applications are evidence of the trickle-down effect, said administrators.
“It reinforces and supports everything we are trying to do to promote the reputation and visibility of the university and get more people to come out to events – alumni events, cultural events, coming back to campus, in addition to sports events,” said Brodie Remington, vice president for university relations.
The Terrapin football team is undefeated and off to its best start since 1978, ranking in the top 10 for the first time in 16 years. The basketball team, which went to the Final Four for the first time last season, has high expectations for 2001-02. The women’s lacrosse team has won seven consecutive national championships. Other Maryland teams are nationally recognized.
“It’s positive in so many ways,” said Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, a 1964 Maryland graduate. “(Former) Gov. Mandel said when Maryland football and basketball teams did well, it made the state much easier to govern, because the people were much happier.”
It also translates into cash for the university. Major gifts – large donations intended for a specific purpose – have increased, said Remington, citing the newly dedicated Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center and construction of the Comcast Center, both named for their major donors.
“Bold Vision, Bright Future,” a seven-year university fund-raising campaign in its last year, has already surpassed its $350 million goal by 17 percent.
“The dollars sound like a lot, but they don’t go as far as we hope,” said Remington. “But, they do make a difference. The fund-raising improvement has been across the entire university – business, engineering, humanities, College of Education, you name it.” Although Remington said it is hard to determine the exact dollar impact on the university, the biggest barometer is the 23 percent increase in the number of alumni who contributed something last year, a record that may be broken this year.
The University of Maryland Alumni Association had its biggest membership growth last year and is reporting similar increases this year.
“There clearly is a sense of greater interest in our activities and we think it has a lot to do with the football and basketball programs,” said Director Danita Nias. “Our appearance in the Final Four helped to spark interest not only in the athletic program, but in the university and alumni association.”
Thirty Maryland alumni clubs are networked across the country and Nias said many hold “game watches” for Terrapin sporting events.
College Park businesses are also cashing in on the success with increased sales.
The Maryland Book Exchange is reporting increases “across the board,” said general merchandise manager Bernie Brew.
“What drives clothing (sales) is the football program, but this (boom) goes back to the success of the basketball program with the Final Four,” said Brew, who expects a big boost during the winter shopping season.
Sports bars near the university have also noted a significant business increase on game days.
“We have always done a little bit of an increase, but this year it has been a major financial impact with football doing what it’s doing,” said Greg Sanders, general manager of Santa Fe Cafe. Sales this year are almost double the norm on game days, he said. Sales are best when the Terrapins are on the road and fans come in to watch the team on television, he said.
More television appearances give the university free advertising and are helping to increase the school’s reputation as a successful academic and athletic institute, said Remington.
“A winning football program attracts a lot of attention, but if you can improve test scores and students’ success, that can (also) be attractive,” he said. “I guess the common theme here is, `success breeds success.’ ”
Partnership and sponsorship on research projects have also risen, although officials cannot confirm any correlation to the athletic programs’ success. The university is partnering with NASA, NOAA, the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Agriculture, and a long list of private and public companies in fields from bioscience to engineering to architecture.
Campus visits, too, are up, which may be in part due to the athletic success, said Barbara Gill, director of undergraduate admissions. Parents and students are asking more about the availability of tickets to sporting events, she said.
A victory Saturday at Florida State will push the Terps farther into the national spotlight. It would be the first Maryland victory over the Seminoles and would give the Terrapins the upper hand in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings. Maryland will likely break an 11-year bowl drought and, with a conference championship, would make an appearance in the Bowl Championship Series, college football’s top tier of bowl games.