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Buffalo AD White in 'NY State' of mind

Thursday, July 04, 2013 - Updated: 4:09 AM

BUFFALO (AP) -- Athletic director Danny White is in a New York State of mind outlining his ambitious plan to raise the Buffalo's national profile.

Since New York is already part of the school's official name, White figures why not emphasize it? If Berkeley's Golden Bears can refer to themselves as California, then there's no reason why the State University of New York at Buffalo can't one day be regarded as simply "New York."

"New York state's one of the most powerful state's in the country. And we don't see any reasons why we should run away from our position in the state," White said. "So when we think about, 'Can we turn this into America's next big-time college athletics brand?" I think that there's a possibility that we can."

Don't laugh. White's serious about rebranding a program that has struggled competing in the Mid-American Conference, let alone made much of a dent in the national landscape since making the jump to the Division I-A level in 1999.

In the one year since taking over, the 33-year-old White, and son of Duke AD Kevin White, has begun unveiling the new vision.

New York is spelled out in large capital letters on the breast of the new Nike-designed Bulls collared shirt White wears. And it's a theme most prominently featured on the recently repainted Alumni Arena basketball court, on which a map of the entire state is spread across center court.

White doesn't intend to lose the name Buffalo, and doesn't consider the emphasis of New York as a knock against the city.

"It's certainly not a negative on Knoxville to have the Tennessee Volunteers, or Ann Arbor to have the Michigan Wolverines," he said. "I think it's only good for the city of Buffalo, for western New York and for our institution if we establish more of a national brand and get more nationally relevant as an athletic department."

White, of course, acknowledges a long road ahead transforming a program that's lacked resources, success or much of an identity.

Turner Gill didn't realize Buffalo even had a football program before he was hired as coach in 2006.

Buffalo's teams have combined to win a total of seven regular-season or postseason titles. That includes the Gill-coached Bulls winning the MAC title in 2008 and finishing with an 8-6 record -- the team's only winning finish since 1996, when Buffalo was a Division I-AA program.

Lack of success aside, White noted the school has several advantages that have gone relatively untapped.

With an enrollment approaching 30,000, Buffalo is the flagship school in the state's system. More important, it's one of 62 members of the Association of American Universities, a collection of schools that includes Harvard, Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan.

It's not lost on White that in the breakup of the Big East Conference, Rutgers -- an AAU member -- found a landing spot with the Big Ten, while a higher-profile sports institution such as Connecticut was overlooked.

That should give Buffalo an edge.

"Our institutional profile is what gives us so much upside," White said. "You can't describe the potential of this place without describing who we are as New York's leading public university, an AAU institution, and what that means for us in terms of college athletics. That's what our new mark is all about."

Linking Buffalo to New York is not a new idea. One football media guide in the 1960s emphasized the state on its front cover, and added the note, "Formerly UB," on its inside cover.

Some 10 years ago, Rochester billionaire and former Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano offered to make a multimillion donation to the school on condition it changed its name to New York State.

Golisano supports White's vision, said Larry Quinn, who served as the Sabres managing partner under Golisano.

"Tom's a big fan of what Danny's doing," Quinn said, noting that White has picked up where his predecessor Warde Manuel left off. "I think he's got great young energy. Warde started it. And I have a lot of confidence Danny will finish it. They're a great one-two punch."

That punch is going to need money, White acknowledged. The first priority is building a field house so Buffalo's outdoor sports teams can avoid the wintery elements.

White has already begun transforming Buffalo's coaching staff. His most high-profile addition was hiring former college and NBA star Bobby Hurley to take over the men's basketball program. That move, in itself, raised the school's reputation.

White stresses he hired Hurley because of his background and ability, not simply because of his name.

And yet, he's not complaining about the buzz Hurley created.

"It was nice. I think it helps our relevance," White said. "I think we have a compelling vision, a compelling story, and we'll see where it takes us."

     

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