Back in the day when they were the Braves, then Quinnipiac College decided to raise the profile of the school there were two paths to take…political consulting polls and athletics, neither of which would be easy but both, if done well, could raise enrollment, pride and donations for the Connecticut school.
Today, the Quinnipiac University Bobcats have done both, using their political polling model, much like Marist College, to raise the profile of the school in political and news circles, and finding a way through Division I hockey to carve a niche that will help raise not just the sport, but athletics and funding overall.
Now hockey as the road to success may not seem like the easiest one. Football is by far the most expensive and the toughest, but with the biggest reward. We have seen what basketball focus has done for schools like Gonzaga and Virginia Commonwealth and most recently Florida Gulf Coast, and a sport like lacrosse has elevated the Q factor outside of academics for a school like Johns Hopkins. However hockey in the Northeast for a mid-major school just outside of a major market is an interesting, and effective way to go to lift a brand, and with a number one ranking going into this week’s Frozen Four in Pittsburgh, the Bobcats have seen an interesting solution.
Why did it work for QU when it did not for another local school that tried it, like Fairfield University (which elevated and then dropped its program?). One was need. The Bobcats were playing most sports in the largely urban Northeast Conference, and had been successful to a point, almost making it to the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and competing in both the NIT and the CBI. However with schools like Robert Morris University the road to consistent success in a basketball heavy region would be very difficult. Not impossible, but difficult. So the school looked at regional success schools had had to the north…in hockey. The state is a hotbed, and programs not overly successful in basketball or football have made a name for themselves consistently in the sport of hockey, with the right infrastructure. No public rinks or sharing time would work, and studies showed a rink in Connecticut could become a valuable asset for a place where ice time for youth was short. The second was location. Enter the multipurpose TD Bank Sports Center( the hockey arena in the facility is High Point Solutions Arena at the TD Bank Sports Center) in Hamden, on the campus, built in 2007. The facility is used for most of the school’s winter sports, but it became the counterpoint, a state of the art facility for hockey. As the program grew, with a facility that students could easily get to, attendance and awareness grew, and Quinnipiac used that success to elevate all of its sports to the point where it will now join the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in all sports in 2013.
As athletics especially hockey, vision became clear, the school became more of a household name with its polling center as well, so one few the other, and recruiting for overall students as well as student-athletes, went hand in hand. You would not have to go just to the sports page to find the school, you could find it front and center at key times in the political cycle as well, and working together, the stature of a University balancing academics and athletics rose.
Now Quinnipiac is not the only “Cinderella” at the NCAA hockey dance next weekend. UMass-Lowell has tried and succeeded to carve a similar success story with hockey, and a school known for academics, Yale, is also riding its own success on the ice to Pittsburgh. However Quinnipiac as a private school and a relative newcomer to Division I, is an interesting combo and one which took a structured, but slightly unusual path, with polls and ice, to grow its brand.
Smart move by a growing institution looking to find its way.