STANFORD -- Nobody knows Stanford fans like Howard Wolf. As the longtime president of the alumni association, Wolf has a keen sense for how the school's 211,000 living alums across 151 countries view the football team's upcoming appearance in the Rose Bowl.

"It's the pinnacle," Wolf said. "Many of our alumni would rather the team play in the Rose Bowl than in the national championship. It means everything."

It's worth a lot, too.

Stanford's back-to-back-to-back appearances in the Bowl Championship Series have generated television exposure worth tens of millions of dollars, boosted fundraising by millions more and fueled recruiting efforts -- not only for the football program but, it appears, the university as a whole.

The Orange, Fiesta and Rose bowl appearances have laid waste to long-standing assumptions, as well.

"It's invaluable in so many different ways," said Cardinal coach David Shaw, whose team will face Wisconsin on Tuesday. "Case in point: The misconception that Stanford doesn't travel well has been blown out of the water completely."

The Cardinal was well-represented two years ago in Miami and last season in Glendale, Ariz. When tickets to the Rose Bowl became available after the Pac-12 championship game, fans gobbled up the Cardinal's allotment of 31,000 in a matter of days -- and kept going.

Approximately 40,000 tickets have been sold for the team's first appearance in the Rose Bowl in 13 years.

"It's galvanizing, not just for the athletes but for Stanford in general," Shaw said. "And the money's great."

The Pac-12 Conference receives approximately $25 million from its contract with the five BCS games. After all the league's bowl participants are reimbursed for expenses, the remaining sum is distributed equally among the schools.

In other words, the Cardinal's share of direct BCS revenue is the same whether it's playing in the Rose Bowl or watching on TV.

But in every other respect, the Orange, Fiesta and Rose bowl appearances provide Stanford with incalculable benefits:

  • Television exposure.

    Stanford received an immense amount of free publicity from the Orange and Fiesta broadcasts. But neither game possesses the worldwide reach of the bowl they call the Granddaddy of Them All, which attracted 17.5 million viewers last season -- the second-highest among BCS games behind the national championship.

    Navigate Marketing, which provides valuation estimates for clients in pro and college sports, expects Stanford to receive $11 million worth of exposure value (highlights, logo display, etc.) from the 3.5-hour Rose Bowl telecast on ESPN.

  • University recruiting.

    The relationship between athletic success and applications for admission is difficult to prove, but circumstantial evidence suggests a connection -- even for a school as prestigious as Stanford.

    Dubbed the Luck Effect, applications have increased at a higher-than-expected rate since former quarterback Andrew Luck fueled the football team's rise to prominence.

    After Stanford announced in January that it had received 36,631 applications for the Class of 2016, Bob Patterson, director of admissions at the time, told Bloomberg News:

    "It's a little more than we anticipated. Stanford did very well in football, and Andrew Luck was a leader for the university."

  • Football recruiting.

    Nothing grabs the attention of top prospects like the BCS. The 2012 recruiting class, which came on the heels of the Orange and Fiesta appearances, was No. 7 nationally -- the highest rated in school history.

    "You don't just want to say you can play with anybody," Shaw said, "you want to show it."

    The exposure goes beyond a three-hour television broadcast. Recruits who live near the bowl game can watch Stanford practice on site -- as five-star offensive lineman Andrus Peat did last year before the Fiesta Bowl.

    "It definitely helps," said Peat, who is from Tempe and picked Stanford over USC and Nebraska. "Seeing the success of the last few years with three BCS games, that's something you want to be a part of."

  • Fundraising.

    Stanford doesn't release fundraising data or categorize donations in a manner that indicates a direct correlation to bowl appearances. But a source familiar with athletic department finances estimated that the Rose Bowl will generate as much as $1 million in donations.

    That figure doesn't include gifts earmarked for athletic scholarships or capital projects. Nor does it account for the torrent of donations to the university's general fund from alumni who have jumped on the football bandwagon the past three years.

    "If the university is a home, then athletics is like the front porch," said Wolf, whose organization will host a Rose Bowl tailgate party for 15,000 alumni.

    "It's easier to understand how you're doing in football than, say, environmental studies. Athletics gives you access to other parts of the university. It's a rallying point.

    "There are very few things that can bond Stanford alumni from all over the world. But as a single event, the Rose Bowl is right up there."

    For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at jwilner@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5716.

    MILITARY BOWL
    THURSDAY
    At Washington
    WHO: San Jose State (10-2) vs. Bowling Green (8-4)
    WHEN: noon.
    TV: ESPN

    ROSE BOWL
    TUESDAY
    At Pasadena
    WHO: Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5)
    WHEN: 2 p.m.
    TV: ESPN