UConn hoping to capitalize on championships
STORRS, Conn. (AP) Campus celebrations are winding down after two nights of championship parties, yet the off-court excitement could be just beginning at the University of Connecticut.
With students, faculty and alumni beaming with pride following the men’s and women’s basketball team’s national titles, the university administration is looking far beyond the Gampel Pavilion sports arena for a payoff.
The teams’ accomplishments led national news and sports broadcasts and appeared on news or sports pages of newspapers across the world.
”It’s amazing. It lets everyone know we’re something special here,” said Danielle Deschene, an 18-year-old freshman from Norwich who was sporting a Huskies sweatshirt while picking up a UConn T-shirt for her dad at a campus bookstore.
UConn is the only school to ever win the NCAA Division I men’s and women’s titles in the same year, a feat it also accomplished in 2004.
Money can’t buy that kind of publicity, and an expected result is a boost in finances, admissions applications and recruiting.
UConn President Susan Herbst said it is hard to quantify the effect the titles will have on donations and student applications, but she’s sure they’ll increase.
”They get the attention, they win, and then I take that attention and turn it toward the academic mission,” she said Tuesday. ”People are thinking about UConn and when they get to me with congratulations, then, I have to talk about our health center, our excellence in education, our student success.”
Brian Otis, vice president of development at the University of Connecticut Foundation, said the national titles have contributed to a major hike in fundraising from less than $20 million annually in the 1990s to $63 million last year.
”The success has raised the bar of excellence across the university,” he said. ”There was a period where mediocrity was the acceptable level of performance. That’s no longer the case.”
Veteran UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma also made the point during a campus victory rally for his team Wednesday afternoon.
”Today, there is absolutely no question and no doubt that if you come to school here, you are a champion and you’re going to live with champions,” Auriemma said.
The women’s team took a campus victory lap in an open-air, double-decker bus before speeches and cheers outside the Student Union. Seniors Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson tearfully thanked fans and fellow students.
”I love the support that we have from all of you,” Hartley said. ”It’s not just the women’s basketball team or the men’s basketball team, we share this with every team on our campus.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced that a parade for the basketball teams will be held Sunday in Hartford.
The NCAA basketball titles – a record ninth for the women and fourth for the men – deliver a boost to the UConn brand, Herbst said.
The school’s image took a hit in 2013 because of the men’s team was banned from the NCAA tournament over academic performance issues. The school also is facing a Title IX lawsuit over its response to sexual assault allegations on campus. Those headlines have been replaced by stories about men and women performing at a high level on and off the court and the school celebrating both championships.
”We’re still top dogs,” UConn men’s coach Kevin Ollie said.
UConn expects the titles to help recruiting. The Huskies already were among the nation’s elite in attracting basketball talent. But Ollie says winning another title a year after the ban sends a message to potential student athletes that the program isn’t on the decline.
The championships also provide a financial windfall. Checkout lines snaked through the UConn Co-op bookstore Tuesday as fans purchased championship gear. The school is planning several new designs to honor both the men’s and the women’s teams.
Kyle Muncy, who’s in charge of licensing and branding for the athletic department, said it’s hard to predict how much of an effect the wins will have on licensing revenue. He said the biggest periods in the school’s licensing royalty history were in 2004-2005 and 1999-2000, corresponding to the dual titles in 2004 and first men’s title in 1999. He said this year could top the 2004 mark of $1.2 million.
The school’s rise over the past 20 years as an athletic power has coincided with a rise in academic prowess. And the school has said the pool of applicants for next fall has higher SAT scores and more diversity than previous classes.
Applications for undergraduate admission at UConn have risen each year for over a decade, from 13,600 in 2001 to nearly 30,000 this year. Nathan Fuerst, the admissions director, said the championships do raise national awareness of UConn.
Associated Press writers Dave Collins in Hartford, Conn., and Michael Melia in Storrs contributed to this report.