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Why a successful football program benefits a university in ways money can't buy

It's a good time for Temple football. In fact, it's a better time to be an Owl than it's been in decades -- perhaps ever. Over the past two seasons, the Owls have played a home-and-home with Penn State, hosted a nationally-televised primetime game with Notre Dame, appeared in back-to-back American Athletic Conference championship games (winning one) and made back-to-back bowl trips.

But where Temple football has profited over the Owls' run of success lately, so, too, has the university. The Owls canvassed a number of experts on the relationship between college athletics and academics and found the football program's 20-8 run of high-profile success has bought Temple University a level of exposure the school never could've purchased on its own.

In fact, Temple hired a media tracking firm to count the equivalent dollar value of every piece of media exposure related to Owls football over just the 2016 football season -- from broadcasts on ABC and ESPN to local broadcasts in, say, Orlando after a Temple-UCF game -- and found Temple University would have to spend $38 million to garner such a reach.

"Temple cannot afford to purchase that level of exposure on a national level. It would just be too costly to buy that amount of advertising time," Temple University Sports Industry Research Center director Dr. Jeremy Jordan said.

READ: Gonzaga presents living, undeniable proof how a successful program can transform a university.

"Temple University is a brand. When the football team is on television, it's a way to promote the brand and communicate the mission of the institution and what the institution stands for. It was more than just a game or two. What that meant in terms of the commentary that was being had at the national media level about Temple – its football program, the university, Philadelphia in general – all benefitted because of this. It provided a definite opportunity for Temple as a university to receive exposure through its athletic program."

This is why any straight-line evaluation of an athletics department by comparing revenue to expenditures misses the point entirely. The athletics department is the university's most effective marketing tool and its student engagement department. A football program touches every point of the life cycle of a typical student -- it's often what first makes a prospective student aware of the university; it's what bonds a new student to the university (both the school itself and the student body) by giving them something to do in their early days on campus; and it's largely the only thing bringing former students back on campus after they graduate. Football games are also key fundraising events for departments across campus.

"Getting students to campus is one thing; keeping them here is just as critical nowadays," University of Florida Department of Tourism, Recreation and Sport Management chair Dr. Michael Sagas said. "Retention and graduation rates … there is a comprehensive, complex effort to keep students well and happy, and entertainment is part of it.

"Athletics provide an excellent opportunity to let students come together and have a good time. Relax a little bit … get away from the academic rigors of campus. It creates a common group identity, which is great for new students. It's part of the socialization process of students when they get to campus. Football is in the fall, and it's usually the first touchpoint new students will have with the institution. You see all these people rooting for the same team, wearing the same color. It helps with feeling a common bond with the university. It's definitely an entertainment piece, but it shouldn't be underestimated. It is important to the overall well-being of the student experience on campus."

There are scores of data stating that a successful program lifts the tide for the entire university in the form of increased applications... which then benefits the university through a higher-scoring student body.

Said University of South Carolina College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management associate dean Dr. Andy Gillentine: "The spike in applications has multiple positive academic benefits for the university. One, of course, is if you're trying to drive enrollment up, you have a much larger pool of potential candidates. If you're trying to drive up quality, it only makes sense that as the pool increases, so does the number of better applicants – kids with higher scores. So you get a larger pool of higher quality applicants to choose from to allow admissions. If you have a much larger pool and you maintain your academic admissions standards, then your acceptance level goes down – which says that it gets harder and harder to get into your school because of the qualifications. All of those things help make it more competitive to get in, and that's attractive to people."

USC, for instance, recently recorded its most applications ever, resulting in the lowest acceptance rate in school history, after the school's first Rose Bowl berth in nearly a decade.

The benefits a university will receive after culling through a spike in applications will cascade for decades -- and never show up on a balance sheet. So the next time someone asks you why it costs so much doggone money to run a football program, direct them to this.