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Building Athletic Success

Mark Benson speaks at Casey Stadium for the first time as UAlbany athletic director. (Photo by Paul Miller)

ALBANY, N.Y. (September 29, 2016) – Football’s 2016 home opener two Saturday’s ago was a milestone day for UAlbany Athletics.

The Great Danes hosted a near capacity crowd of 8,040 at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium, defeating Holy Cross 45-28 to remain unbeaten on the season.

The fan turnout was one of the largest in program history — something Mark Benson is hoping to see more of in his third year as athletic director.

“We’ve been working hard to build the game day experience for fans,” Benson said. “We saw it all come together against Holy Cross. People were tailgating, the stadium was packed, it felt like a true college football atmosphere. I was excited to be part of it.”

Benson was hired in August 2014 to lead the University’s 18 Division I sports teams. He moved himself, wife Hunter and their three daughters to Albany, after completing a tenure as senior associate athletic director at Old Dominion University (ODU).

Since arriving, Benson has made it his mission to grow UAlbany’s fan base and increase athletic support.

“When I was contacted for the job, I was immediately interested,” said Benson. “The success of our teams and the University’s academic reputation made this position very attractive. I’ve said from the beginning, the Capital District community and our alumni base is large enough to support us. We just need to find ways to attract them.”

Benson is attracting.

Under his leadership, athletics received its largest single gift — $10 million, from the Bernard and Millie Children’s Foundation. He’s also increased collaborations with units across campus to enhance the fan experience and deepen donor and corporate sponsor relationships.

Some notable changes include:

Great Dane Game Day: A pregame celebration at every home football game designed for all fans. It features entertainment, games, prizes, live music, food, a beer garden, and fireworks during select games.

The Great Dane Athletic Club: An exclusive fan club to thank Great Dane donors for their support based on current level of giving, lifetime donations (dating back to 1986), and consecutive years of season ticket purchases. Benefits include priority ticket locations, parking, in-game hospitality, postseason ticket priority and various other amenities.

UAlbanySports.com: An all-new dynamic website released in July that allows fans to access content on virtually any device. Also added was a print-at-home ticket option, the capability to share tickets through email and an enhanced online personal account manager.

SEFCU Renovations and Albany Cup: SEFCU Arena is getting upgrades for the 2016-17 basketball season. Included are additional replay videoboards, all-new LED interactive press tables and new gold level “NBA” style courtside seating and hospitality. The annual UAlbany vs. Siena “Albany Cup” game will be played this year at SEFCU, marking the first time the clash of local rivals will be played on UAlbany’s campus since 1976.

Benson introduces Coach Mac.

Benson introduces Joanna Bernabei-McNamee as the new head coach of women's basketball. (Photo by Carlo de Jesus) 

“I’m most proud of the relationships we are building with other units on campus,” said Benson. “Without the help from our colleagues in departments like the President’s Office, Student Affairs, Residential Life, Development, Finance and Administration, and Communications and Marketing, we would not have been able to make such progress in a short time period.”

Though the momentum is building, Benson said there’s still much more work to do. His hope is to soon see every football game as full as the Holy Cross home opener. He’s also looking to see increases in fan support for all other sports.

One way to ensure the growth continues? Successful student athletes.

In Benson’s first year, UAlbany’s men’s and women’s teams were recognized in the final Capital One Cup standings, which honors the nation’s best Division I athletic programs. They’ve won a combined 17 America East Conference Championships and competed in 11 NCAA Tournaments over the last two seasons.

UAlbany also had six America East scholar-athletes in 2015-16. No other school in the conference had more than three.

“Our student athletes are continuing to raise expectation levels both on the field and in the classroom,” Benson said. “Their success is not going unnoticed. It has a major impact on building our reputation, both locally and throughout the Division I athletics community.”

UAlbany football hosts four more home games this season, including Homecoming on Saturday, Oct 8. Visit the Great Danes’ online box office to purchase single and season tickets.

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.