Appalachian State University’s football team has gotten national attention for putting points on the board, and it’s not too bad at putting coin in the school’s coffers. When it shocked college-football fans last September by beating the University of Michigan Wolverines at The Big House in Ann Arbor, one of the shrines of the game, ASU pocketed $400,000. This year’s opener? Another road game against a history-rich team in college football’s top division: Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. ASU’s take will jump to $550,000.
It’s a good thing. Since 2005, when the Mountaineers began their string of national championships in college football’s second-highest division, ASU has spent more than $50 million on buildings for football, baseball, softball and other sports. “The expectations changed for our athletic program after we won our first national championship,” says Athletics Director Charlie Cobb.
So did perceptions of the school. More alumni are contributing money — donations quadrupled last year to nearly $2.2 million — more professors want to teach there, and more athletes want to play there. Again, it’s a good thing. SAT scores for entering freshmen have jumped 42 points. Championships and victories over better-known teams build enthusiasm and make ASU harder to ignore. The Michigan win landed the Mountaineers on the cover of Sports Illustrated and in a Nike commercial with Michael Jordan. Since that game, attendance at the team’s 16,650-seat stadium in Boone has averaged 160% of capacity — people sit on grass overlooking the field — and season-ticket sales are up 62% for 2008. Fewer people will go home with grass stains after a 4,400-seat upper deck opens this fall.
Head coach Jerry Moore is faring better financially, too. After leading ASU to its first national title in 2005, Moore’s annual salary zoomed from $90,000 to $200,000 — better, but still not close to the $1.7 million Butch Davis makes coaching at Carolina. Moore has been able to keep together his championship coaching staff, the highest-paid in ASU’s conference, and he’ll need its best effort in the upcoming season. A disappointing one could cause the money and goodwill to ebb. It all starts down on the bayou. And LSU won its division championship — becoming college football’s top team — last year, too.