The University of New Hampshire has enjoyed a three-year surge in fundraising, and UNH officials expect that financial momentum will continue after the best football season in school history put the school on the national stage.
A humbling loss to North Dakota State on Friday could not tarnish what the Wildcats accomplished during a run to the national semifinals and an unprecedented spike in exposure for the school.
"It's going to help everything regardless of what the outcome was," UNH Director of Athletics Marty Scarano said Saturday. "You can't buy that kind of branding power."
Success generally spurs alumni donations everywhere, and UNH's fundraising has tripled over the last three years, said Steve Donovan, associate vice president for advancement and executive director of the UNH Alumni Association. UNH's fundraising total leaped from about $12 million in 2011 to $36 million for fiscal year 2013, which ended before the football season started.
While it's too early to project the 2014 total, Donovan said, it could be a very good year based on the football team's accomplishment."I think it's fabulous. It just creates great pride in UNH fans and their alma mater," Donovan said. "We hope it continues to bolster the pride that already existed. There really is a wide UNH following all over the world."
UNH plays in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, just one tier below the top level schools competing in the Football Bowl Division but far removed from the lucrative Bowl Championship Series and powerhouse programs that draw more than 100,000 fans for every home game.
The one advantage the FCS has enjoyed is a national playoff system, which UNH reached for the 10th straight year. That's the longest current run among FCS schools, but the streak received little publicity outside the region up until UNH advanced to the semifinals for the first time.
The game was broadcast on espn2 and put UNH before a national television audience, which was quite a step for a school that plays its home games on Saturday afternoons exclusively because the stadium doesn't have lights.
It also provided UNH alumni from coast to coast a chance to gather and watch the Wildcats play for a spot in next week's championship game. Although the celebrations fizzled quickly as North Dakota State turned the game into a 52-14 rout, the season overall was something UNH fans will not forget. UNH fans filled Billy's Sports Bar and Grill in Manchester on Friday night to watch the game.
The crowd thinned as the North Dakota State lead continued to grow, but a few fans remained until the end - still enjoying the sight of the Wildcats playing on nearly every screen throughout the bar.
Billy Clement, a 2012 UNH graduate, recalled going to home games and a sparse student population among the fans within the tiny confines of Cowell Stadium.
Although admission to football games was free to students, hockey games were always the bigger deal on campus.
"It was always kind of frustrating to see the stadium empty," Clement said. "Being a big hockey school, that's really been where more of the focus is. I think this definitely gets some huge coverage for the football team."
And in college football, coverage means free publicity for UNH coach Sean McDonnell and his staff as they recruit the next classes of Wildcats.
Scarano said every mention of UNH during the game and the coverage leading up to it put the school's name and strong academic reputation out there for potential recruits and parents, who may otherwise not have considered Durham as a destination for college.
"It gives us a great push," Scarano said.
"People who want their sons to get a quality education and play football are attracted to us," Scarano said. "The thing is about UNH, all of us understand the academic mission and integrity of the mission, and we work within it.
"We're never going to compromise that to win championships."