Success may be its own reward, but as the UW-Whitewater football program gears up for its seventh straight appearance in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl against Mount Union (Ohio) on Friday in Salem, Va., the Warhawks have learned there are plenty of other perks that accompany it.
Since the run of football success began in 2005, Whitewater has seen a new synthetic turf installed at Perkins Stadium, a renovated press box with greater television broadcast opportunities and a $370,000 scoreboard installed with high-definition instant-replay capabilities — all rarities for a Division III program.
With each excellent season on the field, opportunities for revenue go up. The Warhawks led all Division III schools in attendance this season (8,039 fans per game) and have seen alumni donations and corporate sponsorships flock to the program since coach Lance Leipold proved the success wasn't a flash in the pan.
Athletic Director Paul Plinske has made sure to funnel much of that money back in to the program itself.
"Revenue has essentially tripled for us since 2006," Plinske said. "We were averaging 4,000-5,000 per game in attendance (before 2006) and now we are leading Division III. Alumni have come in and wanted to help us out with our facilities.
"And the (national championship) is always televised on (an) ESPN (network). That right there in of itself brings us recognition, notoriety and popularity each year."
Next on the checklist for Plinske will be increasing the program's television exposure.
While Whitewater currently broadcasts each home game to the Whitewater and Janesville areas, Plinske has been in talks with Time Warner Cable in Milwaukee and Charter Communications in Madison to increase the Warhawks' exposure in the state.
Since Whitewater hosted ESPN3 equipment for this season's semifinal playoff game against St. Thomas (Minn.) and the broadcast went off without a hitch, Plinske believes Whitewater football will be coming to the two biggest metro areas in Wisconsin soon.
"There is a very strong likelihood on getting games in Madison and Milwaukee next year," Plinske said. "We are built and equipped for it.
"The key is to make sure we broadcast games that don't compete with the Badgers."
Whitewater's rise in football has benefited the school outside of the athletic domain, too.
According to Plinske, enrollment from Illinois and the out-of-state tuition that brings has increased — 23 percent of the football team hails from Wisconsin's southern neighbor — and the test scores and class rankings of each admissions class have improved every year since 2006.
"We like to say a rising tide raises all ships," Plinske said. "With the football program as the tide, we have a greater amount of applications and the test score and class ranks are higher. Whitewater used to be known as a suit case college and we believe that we have transformed this model. We are trying to create a holistic experience for students similar to Madison."