Saturday, December 6, 2008

A vision realized

University at Buffalo alumni and fans who had been wondering when there might be a breakthrough for the athletic program (which joined NCAA Division I in 1991 and I-A, now FBS, in 1999) got the answer on Friday night as the Bulls posted a 42-24 victory over previously unbeaten Ball State in the Mid American Conference Championship game. Buffalo will now prepare to play in the International Bowl in Toronto, Ontario, less than a 2 hour drive from campus.

But the reasons the University made the decision to join Division I were on display in the first half well before the game was ever decided. UB received a tremendous amount of favorable publicity during the contest at a time when prospective students are making last minute decisions about where to apply for college. Mike Brey, Notre Dame's men's basketball coach whose son plays for Buffalo, participated in a lengthy interview during the first half in which he trumpeted Buffalo's outstanding academics. The interviewer joined in singing the University's praises citing its membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) and its similarities to other great higher education institutions such as the University of Michigan.

During the game, ESPN also spent considerable time discussing the University's only other prior bowl bid, the 1958 Tangerine Bowl. It was a bowl bid that the team declined to accept because UB's two African American student athletes were not permitted to participate in the bowl. ESPN's Outside the Lines also did a piece about the 1958 team as well. It is a piece of Buffalo's history that is a point of pride for every alumnus and alumna.

While the story about the 1958 football team and the fact that Buffalo is a member of the AAU are not secrets, it is hard to put a price tag on the positive publicity the University received and will continue to receive in the next month related to the football program. Alumni esteem and institutional pride are strong and growing with each passing day. While credit for the current success is largely attributable to Athletic Director Warde Manuel and his leadership, the vision and decision by former President Steven Sample to return the University to NCAA
Division I during the late 1980's and early 1990's cannot be overlooked. While it has been a difficult journey and one that is far from over, Friday night was the first big dividend from an investment that many had previously questioned.
-ultimate sports insider

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