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New York – You Got Game

Karla Andrade

Hey, New York. You Got Game?

When you compare universities, usually you compare oranges to oranges and apples to apples. In this case, just for fun and with no particular science behind it, we’re looking to compare athletics to academics.

Which does better to bring a school’s brand recognition in the the lime light? Is it better to have a successful sports program or a sound academic curriculum.

I made a quick hash of the research. It turns out, New York University has some stellar bragging rights. This includes 36 Nobel Prize winners. Not to stop there, the school boasts 10 National Medal of Science award recipients, 16 Pulitzer Prize winners, 20 graduates with Emmy awards and 21 with a Grammy. There are some other notable prizes along the way, 22 of them Tonys and 23 of them MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships.

That’s some braincell brass, no question about it.

It might be safe to assert that NYU is also a household name, but mostly because New York City is a household name and such a collection of buildings is sure to have a university in their somewhere, it stands to reason.

Here’s one way to measure this academic prowess. In 2001, NYU kicked off a fund raising drive. They aimed to take in one million dollars every day and complete the campaign when they had $2.5 billion in the bank.

By all measures , they did well. Seven years later, the had hit their $2.5 billion goal and raised an extra $500 million on top of that.

More than one family donated $50 million gifts during the fund drive. Go NYU!

On the other side of the country, in Spokane, Wash., is he humble, private Catholic university named Gonzaga.

Enrollment about 7,764 at last count. To its credit, the Sierra Club calls it one of the Top 100 “Coolest Schools” and it is frequently ranked as one of the best schools for the money in the country.

Occasionally, a Nobel Prize or a Pulitzer Prize winner will drop by and give a speech. But the brain trust is in New York.

However, while it is clear that New York City has more basketball courts than any other city, Gonzaga’s NCAA basketball Division 1 Bulldogs rule the courts.

Well, not quite rules. But the Gonzaga may represent one of the most dramatic dynamics in the world of college sports, which is the so-called “Flutie Effect.”

This phenomenon is named after Boston College quarterback Doug Fluttie, who launched a “Hail Mary” pass in 1984 in a game against the University Miami, which was heavily favored to win.

The pass, as much as one pass can do, put Flutie on the map and Boston College along with it. It connected, of course, and BC won the game. But it was later noted that applications to BC rose by a stunning 16 percent in 1984 to and by 12 percent the following year, a slightly ironic achievement given the point that BC administrators had been trying to raise application levels for years without much success.

Where do the Bulldogs of Gonzaga fit into this? The story starts in 1907, when Gonzaga first put a basketball team together and, giving them their due, they had their ups and down over the years. But the true mark of college basketball greatness, it is well known, is to secure an invitation to the NCAA March tournament – 64 teams are allowed in – and to win it, if possible.

No such luck for the Zags, but after a long stretch of blatant mediocrity, the Zags won the West Coast Conference post-season tournament in the 1988-1999 season, which gave them an automatic berth in the so-called big dance.

The Zags made the most of it. Not only have they been invited to the tournament in every season since, in their inaugural run, in 1999, the team took down some giants and even scared the eventual champion UConn team more than a little, keeping the margin within a point with less than a minute in regulation play.

The unlikely run saw the Zags trample seventh seed Minnesota, second seed Stanford and Florida in a 73-72 cliffhanger before the Cinderella waltz ended in the game against the Huskies.

And the Flutie Effect took over. With the Zags on a virtual 15-year run, freshman enrollment has been popping, although the Flutie effect seemed to wear off after a few years.

Still, freshman enrollment jumped from 786 to 979 in two years and the school, not incidentally, did some fund raising on their own and secured enough to construct the McCarthey Athletic Center, which cost a cool $23 million.

Pretty cool. Other schools have seen the Flutie Effect in action, of course. George Mason University’s 2006 run to the final four caused an enrollment leap. Boise State, after a classic overtime victory in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl and others have also recorded enrollment spikes.

OK, New York. Bring your game. You’re on.

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