by Moxye Staff

McCormick & Co. Inc. shareholders love their spices, but apparently they are fans of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County — and UMBC hoops.

University President Freeman Hrabowksi was the only one of McCormick’s (NYSE: MKC) board directors to get a round of applause at Sparks-based spice maker’s annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday, more goodwill generated by UMBC’s stunning March Madness upset two weeks ago of the University of Virginia, the first time a No. 16 seed knocked off a No. 1 seed. Six different people went up to Hrabowski to tell him that their child had attended UMBC and where the child is now working.

“That is the product,” Hrabowski told me after the meeting. “I say to them, it’s like the McCormick product. There is my product, the students. That is the message.”

The renowned university president called the last two weeks “unbelievable” and “the most celebrated period in the history of the UMBC.” What excites him the most is that all of the attention has made more people aware of the school’s rigorous and high-performing academic reputation.

“It has been a transformational experience,” Hrabowski said of all the attention the March 16 74-54 win has garnered the university. “But most important, it has been able to shed light on the substance of UMBC, and that is the academic program. Make no mistake about it, we are first about academics here.

UMBC and Hrabowski are nationally known for accomplishments in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math, though Virginia exacted a bit of revenge last week by knocking off the Retrievers (the defending national champ) in a national cybersecurity competition.

For Hrabowski, it’s all about perspective and priorities. At a celebration on campus on Tuesday, Hrabowski recounted how one of the basketball players was asked about the experience and he responded that he was proud of the team’s performance “but I have to go back to my studies.” Another player said the basketball team is “standing on the shoulders of the chess team.”

“Ain’t that a great line?” Hrabowski said.

UMBC’s Jairus Lyles (10) celebrates with fans after the team’s 74-54 win

Taking advantage of the increased publicity will be important for UMBC. Even before the upset victory, school officials were baking o the boost of simply being in the NCAA Tournament and how that could drive increased applications and alumni donations. After the win, UMBC Vice President Gregory Simmons said that process had been “accelerated.”

The university will build on marketing and branding UMBC as a school that balances academics and athletics, Hrabowski said. Head Coach Ryan Odom has signed a one-year contract extension to stay at UMBC — an important move to keep people interested in the basketball team.

Hrabowski also pointed to the school’s new arena as an important asset. Sports marketing experts expect companies to bid high for naming rights. UMBC also expects get a shot in the arm for its recruiting efforts.

“It’s a matter of just building on the strength and being better and better at what we do,” Hrabowski said. “Balanced athletics, first-rate academics and having the country look at how a middle-class place can be among the best — that’s our message. You don’t have to be rich to be the very best, academically or athletically.”

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