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Op-Ed: In Drawing UK, More People Will Know About NKU

As soon as it was announced that Northern Kentucky University’s men’s basketball team would be playing the University of Kentucky on Friday, March 17, social media went ablaze with some surprising comments from local fans. Some were upset that two local teams were being forced to play each other. Why should one of our local teams be forced to lose in the first round? Some were upset because they felt their team deserved a higher seed. I want to take a moment to provide a different opinion. As a lifelong UK fan who is also now an NKU fan, I couldn’t be more excited about Friday’s matchup.  

On Saturday, at least half of the country had never even heard of Northern Kentucky University. Today, there are office pools in Los Angeles and New York City choosing between NKU and UK!

If you’re an NKU fan, don’t be disheartened that most will be picking UK to win. Just remember that Morehead State beat Louisville in the NCAA Tourney not too long ago, and anything can happen. I promise you, plenty of people will be picking NKU to win, and that’s not too shabby for a school many hadn’t even heard of a week ago. You can’t pay for that kind of marketing.  

Maybe that will lead to some kids around the country taking a second look at NKU.   

Perhaps they haven’t heard of NKU’s College of Informatics, the Haile/US Bank College of Business, Chase Law School, or the other terrific programs offered. But now they will have at least heard NKU’s name, and that’s a start.  

And because we’re playing UK, the statewide spotlight will be intense. High school students all around the state of Kentucky will now be seeing NKU’s logo in action.  

We view NKU as a major player in our state. Now everyone else will as well.  

The “On the rise” slogan will now mean something to everyone, not just the current students and faculty.  

And the timing couldn’t be better, as NKU is in the process of recruiting a new university president.  

Any candidate for the job will see some concerning numbers regarding how the state of Kentucky treats higher education. Post-secondary education has seen a 32 percent reduction in funding over the past ten years. In addition, NKU’s required contribution to the state retirement system has grown from $1.5 million in 2007, to over $17 million this year. Those numbers will give any candidate pause.  

But on Friday night, at some point during a nationally televised game, they will hear about NKU’s past successes and future opportunities.  

They will hear about the growing student population and new state-of-the-art facilities (Student Union, Campus Recreation Center, and BB&T Arena).

They will hear about the upcoming Health Innovation Center.  

They will hear that the University of Kentucky College of Medicine is going to develop a regional medical school campus in partnership with Northern Kentucky University and St. Elizabeth Healthcare.

They will see that the past two NKU University Presidents (Jim Votruba and Geoff Mearns) left the University much better than they found it.

Most importantly, they will see an entire region of people that are “Proudly Norse”!    

Yes, it can be frustrating that one of our two favorite teams is going to lose. But it is huge benefit to the NKY region that they are not only playing each other, but also playing close to home so fans have a chance to attend the game.  

From a UK perspective, I’d rather be playing as a two seed in Indy, than a number one seed out west!  

From an NKU perspective, because of the statewide and national exposure, regardless of the outcome of the game, they’ve already won.

Written by Brent Cooper, president of Covington-based C-Forward
Photo: NKU head coach John Brannen holds up the net after the Norse won the Horizon League tournament in Detroit (RCN file)