Jackrabbits’ national name could go a long way



To the right school, a berth in the NCAA Tournament can change how they operate for years to come. More specifically, winning games in the tournament can change the way the entire university is viewed.

The most successful Cinderella teams over the past few years have achieved more than just busting your bracket.

For example, the total value of the three games that Northern Iowa played in 2009, based on standard rates for a one-minute TV commercial, was estimated at $72 million.

Fellow Iowa school Drake made it to the tournament in 2008 for the first time since 1971. They lost to Western Kentucky on a last-second three in overtime.

Tom Delahunt, Drake’s vice president for admissions and financial aid, said the school was already at capacity, enrolling its largest class in 30 years after the Bulldogs NCAA Tournament game. He voiced his expectations of increased interest in an interview shortly after the game.

“We’ll see an increase in high school sophomores and juniors that are now putting Drake on their list where they wouldn’t have before, and they’ll come and visit,” Delahunt said. “We know if we can get them to come visit we have a better chance for them to enroll.”

Gonzaga is the poster child for how the tournament can take a small school with a name that people can’t pronounce and turn it into a household fixture.

“Over these past 14 years of NCAA tournaments, we have seen increases in enrollment, fund-raising, season ticket sales, building projects, sponsorships and TV exposure,” said Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth. “I cannot think of an area in athletics and the university as a whole that has not been positively impacted by our ongoing success.”

Valparaiso, a former Summit League/Mid-Continent school, had its first unexpected NCAA basketball tournament run in 1998. Interest in the school surged after the tournament, but then fell back a bit from the highs. Reggie Syrcle, the school’s executive director of university relations, said years ago that he didn’t necessarily agree with Roth.

“We find it difficult to directly link enrollment and fund-raising results with our success in the NCAA basketball tournament.”

The difference is that Gonzaga sustained its success while Valparaiso experienced a flash in the pan by comparison.

“Getting to the NCAA’s is one thing, but winning games and doing it year after year is the key to having positive long-term outcomes,” Roth said.

The Jacks find themselves in the NCAA tournament for the first time in the four years they have been eligible at Division I. And with SDSU a lock to be the pre-season favorite to repeat in the Summit League next season, they will certainly have an opportunity to do it year after year and have long-term outcomes.

Along with Butler, Virginia Commonwealth was the darling of last year’s Big Dance. A team much maligned for getting into the tournament in the first place as an at-large pick, the Rams won five games on their way to the Final Four. VCU used that success and were one of only five schools this year that sold out every home basketball game at just over 7,600 per game.

David Benedict, Executive Associate Athletic Director at VCU, said that even though VCU is in the tournament again this year, success is not a given.

“You hate to say it’s a once in a lifetime thing, but you just never know. Whether it’s a VCU or a South Dakota State, you just never know when you are going to have that opportunity to get back to a Sweet 16, Elite Eight or Final Four.” VCU knows what it’s all about and they get a chance to try to repeat what they did last year after earning the Colonial Athletic Association’s automatic bid earlier this month.

“We are very, very happy that we were able to capitalize and get back to the NCAA Tournament, because all the momentum that we built up that past 12 months will only continue to get strong because we’ve made the NCAA Tournament again,” Benedict said.

And what can the SDSU athletic department expect if the men make a run in this year’s tournament?

“I would tell them to be ready for a lot of long nights and to really expect to have to work very hard to service all of the different constituencies on campus because people will come out of the woodwork to get involved,” explained Benedict. “It might not happen right away, but the further you go, the more people will come out and want to be a part of what’s taking place and that goes from athletic staff to ticket holders to donors. Then you get to the rest of your community, faculty, board members, politicians. There are just a lot of people that will want to take part in it, which is great, but it just takes a lot of effort and coordination with people to make sure you try to meet all of the needs from everyone that wants to be involved.”

“We only lose one guy off this team, so the expectation is that we are going to go back next year and we certainly have the opportunity to get back again. Hopefully, we are just on the precipice of a run that keeps going,” he said.

A team that loses only one senior, has expectations to get back to the tournament next year and keeps their momentum going?

Sounds like a team from Brookings.