Another Reason Schools Like March Madness
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Finally, this hour, a report from the madness of March. The NCAA tournament features great competition and athleticism, for sure, but as NPR's Mike Pesca tells us, colleges and universities are in it for another reason. You can call it the Butler effect.
MIKE PESCA: Here's a slogan the NCAA won't be adopting. College basketball, what's the point? Yes, of course, it's an exciting sporting event, but why are colleges backing these contests? What do they get from the games?
The Knight Foundation reports that the average big-time sports school runs an annual deficit of about $9 million to fund sports, so it's not a profit motive. But some schools can leverage basketball success into interest in applications. In other words, this tournament is being played in an attempt to lure Matt Peterson(ph).
Mr. MATT PETERSON: I had no idea I was going to Butler, and the March Madness tournament kind of influenced my decision to go to Butler, to be honest. So, yeah.
PESCA: Really? A good decision, you think?
Mr. PETERSON: Yeah. I love Butler. Yeah, a great decision.
PESCA: Whose team in March Madness underperformed, thus convinced you I'm not going to attend that college?
Mr. PETERSON: Georgetown. The George Mason, actually.
PESCA: Of course, Peterson, as a high school senior last year, had to already have his application in during Butler's Final Four run. But the success of the school this year is what in marketing is called message consistency. Butler offers perspective students the opportunity to attend games in the gym featured in the movie "Hoosiers" and maybe take a class with fun and quirky athletes, like Matt Howard, who doesn't change his socks and refuses to see movies in the theater.
Mr. MATT HOWARD: I mean, if you stay two years behind or however long it takes to get out, that's like a brand-new movie to you.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. HOWARD: So why not just wait till it comes out on TV? And it's free.
PESCA: Though not cutting edge, Butler and Matt Howard's success does seem to be cutting into rival school Indiana's potential student body, says freshman Matt Peterson.
Mr. PETERSON: All my friends at Butler, they all applied to I.U. and, for some reason, so many of them went to Butler even though I.U. has a great fan base. And I don't know - I can't explain that besides the fact that we are a better basketball team than I.U.
PESCA: The Bulldogs play top-ranked Pittsburgh tomorrow night. If they can pull the upset, the basketball team and the attendant inherent ad campaign it represents survives to the next round.
Mike Pesca, NPR News, Washington.
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