Thursday, December 18, 2003

Sports success carries beyond Miami campus

Applications, donations, royalties rise with RedHawks' football fortunes

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] >Charles and Sharon Baylor of Milford Township shop at a bookstore in Oxford Wednesday for their son Danny Durham, a Miami University graduate.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
OXFORD - They might not be able to spell star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's last name, but more prospective Miami University students and fans have found Oxford on the map through the magic of national television.

After a winning football season - and three national television appearances in the past six weeks - 14th-ranked Miami has begun to see a boost in everything from applications to alumni giving. Numbers have jumped in nearly every indicator on the campus of 16,488 students, school officials said:

• Hits on the sports page of Miami's Web site increased 125 percent in November over the same period in 2002.

• The admissions office is on pace to process a record number of applications for incoming freshmen.

• And the annual Phone-a-Thon raised more money this year than any other in school history.

"Miami has a pretty broad name recognition already, but I'm sure there are families and college counselors who've read about us or seen us on ESPN," said Mike Mills, the school's director of admission. "It's enough of a trigger for them to want to investigate further."

Redhawk fans, voice support for the team, post thoughts on the season or make predictions for tomorrow's game.

Pride among sports enthusiasts and other alumni is growing as folks prepare to watch the RedHawks play Louisville in the GMAC Bowl tonight in Mobile, Ala.

More than 3.4 million households tuned in to three nationally televised games that helped create a buzz about Miami's program. TV and radio locally and nationally rehashed plays made by Roethlisberger, one of the top quarterbacks in the country, and debated why he wasn't a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.

That momentum has already spread to other areas on campus. And it didn't hurt that the marching band was spotted on the national broadcast of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

"I'm not usually a football person," said Lindsay Whitehurst, a 20-year-old senior from Lakeville, Ill. "But to be doing so well this year, I've gotten into it. I do think the more exposure the better, and if that overlaps into academics, it might make more people want to come here."

It's the same phenomenon the school experienced in 1999 when Wally Szczerbiak led the basketball team to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament and went on to become a first-round pick in the NBA draft. This season, the team is 3-3.

School officials attribute the rise in applications and alumni interest this time around to more than just a 14-1 football team, pointing out Miami's plan to charge only one tuition rate next fall. That effort helps middle-income families who don't qualify for federal aid programs get cash scholarships to attend Miami.

Last year, the public university reached a record number of applications. But school officials say they are on pace to eclipse that number, possibly reaching 14,000 applications for fall 2004 for about 3,400 freshman slots. The same thing happened in fall 2000, the year after the Sweet 16 appearance, when Miami reached what was then an application record.

"The Wally factor is what we called it, the impact the national exposure had on admissions and giving," said Brad Bundy, Miami's associate vice president for advancement.

Alumni take note

Though athletic success doesn't directly translate into increased overall donations to the university, there are barometers that show how alumni feel about their alma mater, Bundy said.

One is the annual Phone-a-Thon, which yielded$1.4 million in donations to Miami this year.

Miami also launched a new, dues-paying membership program in September for alumni with the goal of having 4,000 members by June 30, 2004. They've already surpassed that number.

"A lot of the early success is directly related to the national exposure," he said.

Even Miami's logo has become a more coveted item. Paul Allen, director of business services, usually receives an average of 40 to 45 design proposals a month to use the school's image. This fall, there were about 65 per month.

"We're anticipating a really good year for royalties," Allen said. "And all of that money goes to scholarships."

In fact, the university collected more royalties in the first nine months of the year - $125,257 - than the annual average total. And school officials say this year that number could top $175,000.

At the bookstore, students, parents and alumni are spreading the Miami fever, buying T-shirts, caps and other paraphernalia with the RedHawk mascot and school name. It has affected sales on the main and branch campuses, said Frank Koontz, director of the Oxford campus bookstore.

"It's definitely more than usual based on the activity of the team," he said. "I'm hoping it will continue."

Anna Notier, an 18-year-old freshman from Holland, Mich., was shopping in the bookstore Wednesday for Christmas presents.

"I'm buying a hooded sweatshirt for my dad so he has some Miami gear," she said. "That's what he wanted for Christmas, to support his daughter."

While school officials are excited about the national attention, there are no plans to parlay the focus on the football team into a broader advertising campaign as Ohio State University did last year after its football team won the national title.

"We're ... not trying to present ourselves as a football school," said Miami President James Garland. "Our first and foremost message is academics."

For Miami admission director Mills, his favorite highlight had nothing to do with football.

"The part I like best is when they flash graduation rates for student athletes and the commentators pick up on it," he said. "It makes my job easier. We want to market high graduation rates rather than how high a player is picked in the draft."

Jonie McGee, a 1995 Miami graduate from Sharonville, is one of the 20,000 Miami alums who live in Greater Cincinnati. She is organizing a group of fellow fans to watch the game tonight.

"I was one of those crazy people who loved college, loved my time there," she said. "The ties with Miami are really tight with us. It was that small, college town feel, but we still have that big college pride."


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