USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities and play at the college level. Jason Smith is a former NCAA DIII athlete and college coach at all three division levels. Jason is just one of many former college and professional athletes, college coaches and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience and dedication, along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community, have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
Sports fans love it when an underdog exceeds expectations in the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament, and that includes high school student-athletes looking for potential colleges. After Loyola University Chicago’s men’s basketball team made a magical run in 2018’s March Madness tourney, NCSA saw an 18 percent increase in the number of student-athletes listing Loyola as a college they are interested in versus the previous year. NCSA came across the data using our unique insight into the colleges that high school student-athletes are interested in, tracking the activity of more than 1 million student-athletes as they select their preferred college teams more than four million times. But what else does the data show?
It’s not just about basketball
Overall, there is evidence that March Madness success did result in increased interest in Loyola University Chicago’s sports programs. Looking into NCSA’s favorites data, which reflects the amount of interest expressed by current high school student-athletes in specific colleges, the numbers show that in 2018 Loyola University Chicago saw an 18 percent increase in favorites to its sports teams across the board and a 51 percent increase in favorites to its basketball team when compared to the prior year. Additionally, Loyola saw a 15 percent increase in favorites to all sports teams and a 42 percent increase to basketball in comparison to annual averages for 2015–2017. In regard to other sports, the ones that saw the biggest boost in interest were men’s volleyball, women’s soccer and men’s soccer:
- Men’s volleyball saw a 37 percent increase in favorites from 2017 and a 33 percent increase in comparison to annual averages for 2015–2017
- Women’s soccer saw a 35 percent increase in favorites from 2017 and a 27 percent increase in comparison to annual averages for 2015–2017
- Men’s soccer saw a 26 percent increase in favorites from 2017 and a 23 percent increase in comparison to annual averages for 2015–2017
That’s a noticeable boost! When it came to attendance, Loyola University Chicago’s Director of Marketing and Ticket Operations Brian Day shared in the Loyola Phoenix that within six months of the 2018 March Madness run, “Women’s volleyball has had a 70 percent increase of student attendance since last year. Men’s soccer has the biggest year-to-year difference with a 120 percent increase, but women’s soccer student attendance has decreased by 50 percent.”
A spark to admissions
According to the Loyola Phoenix, even admissions got a boost, as “the class of 2022 is the largest class in Loyola history with 2,924 students enrolled — 117 students more than the class of 2021.” USA Today found a similar pattern when observing other March Madness overachievers. When Florida Gulf Coast University made it to the Sweet 16, its applications increased by 27.5 percent. When George Mason reached the Final Four in 2006, out-of-state applications increased 54 percent. Part of the reason this happens is that higher education is a very competitive space and the added marketing helps these schools stand out. This is a great thing for a school, as it can reap the benefits of rising application numbers two ways: it can admit more students and raise revenue or lower its admissions rate and improve its rank on college-ranking lists. The Atlantic also notes that more accomplished students are likely to apply after a tournament run, adding that “although students with lower SAT scores are more likely to be swayed by a school’s athletic prominence, the number of applications from high-achieving students also increased following on-field achievement.”
It’s all about exposure
According to the NCAA, 97 million people watched March Madness from initial tipoff to the Final Four in 2018. That’s a lot of people, and a successful showing in the tournament can lead to tons of marketing exposure and a big boost to name recognition. In the case of Loyola, the Loyola Phoenix reported a significant boost to its brand half a year after the March Madness run. This included alumni engagement, ticket sales and retail sales — Loyola started selling its gear at 30 additional retail locations in the Chicago area. Specifically, for Loyola University Chicago, the exposure also helped its name stand out from the other Loyola universities: Maryland, New Orleans and Marymount. This carried over to online searches, as the university saw a 400 percent increase in web traffic to its website from the previous year.
How does it impact your recruiting?
There is evidence to support that success in March Madness will not only lead to more interest in a school’s basketball team but also in its other sports programs and overall admissions. Therefore, if you see a school get a lot of attention for its athletic success, there’s a good chance that it will be more difficult to get admitted there in the near future. If it’s a “reach” school for you, It may be a smart move to ignore the hype and find your own Cinderella school. However, if you’re likely to get admitted, then you could be enrolling during a time when the school will rise in college rankings and improve its reputation.
And of course, don’t forget about the NCSA Power Rankings to help you decide which schools are the best for student-athletes.