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Every win matters in March

Ben Jacobson still gets goose bumps when he watches Northern Iowa’s NCAA tournament win against Kansas. Hard to blame him. The coach behind perhaps the year’s greatest upset can relish the thought of his team giving UNI a boost most schools can only imagine.

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An excellent feature by ESPN’s Dan O’Neil recounts how that win - and the fearless shot by senior Ali Farokhmanesh that broke the Jayhawks’ back - was just what the school sorely needed during a time when the economy pinches everyone.

In just 72 hours after the victory, athletic director Troy Dannen raised $1.95 millionfrom various donors to give Jacobsen a raise. And that was just the start. From O’Neil’s story:

When Dannen came to UNI, he was facing an $800,000 budget deficit. Then the state appropriations reduced its contribution from $5 million to $3.6 million, with designs on getting it to zero.

And then, during the week of March 22, credit card transactions spiked from a typical 29 percent to 44 percent at the UNI Foundation Call Center; 46 new members joined the Panther Scholarship Club one week after UNI beat Kansas; sales to the school’s online store jumped a ridiculous 1,577 percent from February to March and website traffic soared as well, with a 168 percent increase in page views and a 268 percent increase in unique visitors over the previous month.

“I think now people finally understand the importance this sort of success has for your university,” Dannen said. “I couldn’t explain it before, but now they can see it and they can touch it.”
Much like George Mason in 2006, UNI was the unknown school that made people take notice. It even applies to more than just mid-majors.

When Kansas won the 2008 title - boosted by Mario Chalmers’ last-second three-pointer - the area papers started printing posters of the celebration and of Chalmers’ shot like mad. As you’d expect, fans scooped ‘em up like mad. The student newspaper, the Kansan, sold so many posters and ads it averted major cuts. The school sold $47.3 million worth of merchandise that year.

Those victories in March matter a little more than most.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.