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Dave Roepke, Published March 12 2009

Bison win has ‘positive effect’ on area

Sometimes basketball is just basketball, and sometimes it’s a whole lot more.

“This has a positive effect on everything,” said Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker of North Dakota State University’s berth in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. “They say any type of notoriety is good. Well, this is good notoriety.”

The Bison won The Summit League title Tuesday to secure a spot in the tournament in the first year they were eligible, a rarity that has drawn wide attention: heavy play on ESPN properties, a CBS camera crew following the team and prominent exposure in national publications such as USA Today.

Officials and fans hope that newfound spotlight will extend far beyond the court.

“From a national (public relations) perspective, you couldn’t develop this,” said NDSU President Joseph Chapman. “You can’t buy it. There’s only one way to get it.”

The Bison busting into the bracket of the 65-team tournament could mean more fundraising, higher enrollment and added prestige, Chapman said.

“How you’re viewed as an institution is all wrapped up in athletics,” he said.

There’s some research to back up the claim. Many studies have shown success in football and men’s basketball can increase donations – though a 2005 study by professors at the University of Illinois and Florida State University only showed increases in restricted giving, the sort often earmarked for sports. A 2006 University of Kentucky analysis tied athletic success to higher academic rankings, such as those published annually in U.S. News and World Report.

Broc Trosen, a freshman from Larimore, N.D., said he wouldn’t be surprised to see enrollment rise thanks to the basketball title. He estimated that Division I sports were one-quarter of the reason he picked NDSU over schools such as St. Cloud State University.

It could also mean goodwill for the region as a whole, said Cole Carley, president of the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau. He said one of his organization’s main goals is to improve perceptions of the Fargo area, which the Bison did in an instant by landing on the road to the Final Four.

“It has put another notch on our fame belt,” he said. “We don’t have major professional sports teams here. This is the closest we’re going to get.”

Walaker, a past president of a Bison booster club who tried out unsuccessfully for the team in his college years, said he fields a lot of barbs about the film “Fargo” when he travels away from home. NDSU’s hoops high point could be one more point of pride to replace the movie in the public consciousness.

“It’s time to put your chests out a bit,” he said. “It’s an unusual feeling.”

Carley said he doesn’t think locals will need much prompting on that front.

“I think you’re going to see this town go nuts,” he said. “With justification.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535