Division III: Less is More

When St. Thomas University and the University of Mt. Union  meet in this coming Saturday’s Division III NCAA football championship — the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl — we don’t expect higher education marketing and enrollment teams from either school to be expecting too much of a so-called “Flutie Effect.”

The “Flutie Effect” refers to the phenomenon of one dramatic televised sports moment, team personality or championship victory spiking prospective student interest in a given college or university.

While Saturday’s game will attract a sell-out crowd (7,992 capacity) and reach a national audience on ESPNU, Division III schools carry few illusions. Even the most successful Division III sports programs (Mt. Union seeking an 11th National Championship in football) admit that a wider set of variables and motivations drive enrollment.

Last year, we worked closely with St. Norbert College, which has made eight Frozen Four appearances since 2003, winning the national championship in 2008, 2011 and 2012. While such success remains a strong point of pride among students and alumni, senior administrators keep a broader perspective. Even St. Norbert’s best hockey players desire, first and foremost, a superior liberal arts education.

In light of all the upheaval in Division I conference alignments in recent years, higher education marketing professionals can count themselves lucky to be working for a smaller school or client.

When the University of Maryland recently traded its venerable position as a founding member of the Atlantic Coast Conference for the windfall TV payday offered by the Big 10, many students and staff balked.

In its first season in the Big 12, West Virginia quickly felt the strain of traveling almost 6,000 miles to play two football games in Texas on consecutive fall weekends.

While most of these still fresh wounds will eventually heal and new rivalries someday develop, it’s refreshing to see the continuity offered to students and student athletes of Division III sports.

The business plan may demand that major universities respond to the highest bidder, there’s no accounting the value of an authentic story and legacy.

Late Saturday night, either Mt. Union or St. Thomas will make genuine history — something that all smart institutions know only appreciates with time.

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