A decade later, Final Four run still affects MU

By Claudia Brokish and Ben Greene
claudia.brokish@marquette.edu and benjamin.greene@marquette.edu

Photo by Al Behrman/ Associated Press

Photo by Al Behrman/ Associated Press

As another season of NCAA March Madness and Marquette men’s basketball comes to a close, the Marquette community can bask in a  milestone  achievement for the team and head coach Buzz Williams – an appearance in the Elite Eight. While the Golden Eagles were knocked out by Syracuse on March 30, the team celebrated its longest run in 10 years.

The team’s Elite Eight appearance is the furthest Marquette has advanced in the NCAA tournament since 2003, when the Golden Eagles and now-Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade made an appearance at the Final Four. This season marked the 10th anniversary since that tournament appearance, which helped thrust Marquette into the national spotlight.

The appearance in the Final Four also played a role in bringing Marquette to the Big East Conference. During the era of Wade, Steve Novak and Travis Diener, Marquette still competed in Conference USA. In the summer immediately following the 2003 Final Four run, however, Marquette announced that it would join the Big East alongside Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville and South Florida in 2005.

New Students and Followers

Having a nationally recognized men’s basketball team has given Marquette name recognition for not only potential athletes but potential students as well. Since 2003, Marquette’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions has seen a significant jump in applicants and admissions rates. For the 2003-2004 academic year, approximately 8,232 students applied; for the 2012-2013 academic year, approximately 22,900 students applied.

While other factors affect admissions and how many students are interested in coming to Marquette, having a nationally recognizable basketball program has pushed Marquette onto the national stage by drawing attention to athletics and drawing in more students.

While social media was not a relevant measure of the university’s online presence during the Final Four run in 2003, Marquette’s basketball program continues to bring in more followers, likes and tags – meaning more people are talking about Marquette online and off.

Marquette has cultivated a significant social media presence since the onset of Twitter and Facebook in the late 2000s. The social media ranking site Klout rated the university within the top 10 in the country for social media presence, which continues to grow.

During the course of this year’s NCAA tournament, Marquette’s Facebook and Twitter pages gained more than 3,000 new  followers, making the totals 27,872 and 21,568, respectively, according to Tim Cigelske, director of social media for Marquette.

The Marquette Athletics social media pages also got a huge boost, with 807 followers on Twitter and 1,167 new likes on Facebook since March 17, according to Greg Cronkite, assistant director of marketing for Marquette Athletics.

“During (the NCAA tournament), we saw the most retweeted, liked and shared posts on Twitter and Facebook in the history of our accounts, as well as well over 3,000 new fans and followers,” Cigelske said.

The influx of followers shows a microcosm of the attention Marquette gains from potential students because of athletics in a way that was not possible before social media. The Marquette Admissions office handles the growing number of applications from new and transfer students each year and sees the effect that growing class sizes have on the university.

“I think (the NCAA tournament) definitely helps,” said Katelynn Pope, a Marquette admissions counselor. “Especially with the name recognition on a national basis. At least the name is out there.”

Pope said there was a significant jump in the number of applications received in the years following the NCAA tournament. She added that the Marquette men’s basketball team is more of a draw at things like college fairs, where it can be used as an easy conversation starter, rather than on campus tours and visits.

Despite the popularity of Marquette men’s basketball, Pope said the university tries to share Marquette’s academic and social draws to potential students more than sports.

“We talk more about multiple academic pursuits,” said Pope. “We don’t push basketball. We try to represent ourselves as multi-interested.”

Athletics ‘On the Map’ 

Marquette Vice President and Director of Athletics Larry Williams said he thought the Final Four run played a major role in the Big East’s decision to take Marquette in as a member.

“The 2003 Final Four run was a very real driver in generating the invitation to join the Big East Conference,” Williams said in an email. “At the time, the conference was very focused on basketball prominence, and the Final Four appearance validated the position that Marquette is seriously committed to the enterprise.”

Similarly, Williams said he expects this year’s run to have positive effects on the university’s exposure in the future.

“While not the Final Four, this year’s run will likewise have a very positive effect on our efforts,” Williams wrote. “We can see from significantly higher ratings that our games in particular were very well watched.”

Associate Athletic Director Scott Kuykendall, the men’s basketball media relations liaison, said he has personally experienced the effects of the popularity increase that was spurred by the basketball program. He said the team’s performance in the last decade quite literally put the university on the map for many college basketball fans.

“Eight straight NCAA tournament appearances allow Marquette to brand itself on a national basis,” Kuykendall said. “When I first started at Marquette six years ago, I would probably be asked at least once a road trip where Marquette was. Most people just assumed we were located in Michigan. I can’t even think of a handful of times that has happened over the course of the past two seasons.”

Steve Cottingham, who served as Marquette’s athletic director from January 2007 to June 2011, said successful athletics helps more than university branding and exposure. He said it also has the potential to shape the experiences of students and alumni.

“The success of athletics also helps foster alumni engagement and loyalty, along with a sense of community and connection that athletics at its best engenders,” Cottingham said. “It also contributes significantly to campus life in building pride and shared memories. People have a desire to belong, and athletics done right helps meet that need.”

National Exposure

Having Final Four and Elite Eight appearances under its belt within the past decade and being on the cusp of another conference change gives Marquette athletics an edge on the court and in admissions. Kuykendall said the relationship is mutually beneficial.

“I don’t think there is any question that not only the success of the men’s basketball team, but the athletics program as a whole, has a positive impact on the university community,” he said. “The national exposure of the NCAA tournament provides a tremendous opportunity for fan and alumni engagement, and the team’s success can only help when it comes to recruiting.”