Prospective students value athletic success

Gregory Doyle

A university’s success in the NCAA has an effect on the school’s name recognition, thus helping garner a broader range of interested students.

The Wildcats’ ascent to the Final Four this season, in addition to their appearances in the NCAA tournament for the last five years, has contributed to a greater awareness of Villanova University. And while other aspects, including academics and the student body, are more likely to be the reason a student enrolls at Villanova, the initial appeal often stems from hearing about the basketball team.

“I view our men’s basketball team’s national prominence as a kind of spotlight that illuminates the University to a broad national and international audience,” said Stephen Merritt, dean of Enrollment Management. “As a result, many students and their families become thoroughly engaged in the Villanova experience for the first time. As a result of that involvement, they come to know our outstanding academics, our distinctive student life programs and the incredible community spirit that makes Villanova so very special.”

Through the Wildcats’ broadcasted athletic successes, as well as the University’s longstanding Augustinian heritage and traditions, Villanova is reputed to offer a comprehensive experience. The breadth of the University’s culture distinguishes ‘Nova from other suburban schools of its size.

“Villanova’s athletic recognition is a combination of tradition, especially in basketball, and the blossoming of cable TV and ESPN,” said Vincent Nicastro, director of Athletics. “In addition, great leadership from Jay Wright — there isn’t a sport where a coach matters more — helps establish that tradition.”

The network platform on college basketball has been essential, especially for the Big East conference, which Villanova joined in 1981, he added.

As Villanova continues to rise in various college rankings and gains more notoriety for its athletic programs, the University is beginning to approach the name recognition of schools such as Duke University and the University of Notre Dame.

“The key is to try to work toward reciprocity,” Nicastro said. “The school itself and the athletics program can build off one another. As basketball grows, the school can use that to leverage the size and culture of the school, and vice versa.”

Villanova, Duke and Notre Dame are all religiously affiliated institutions with highly visible sports teams. The histories of the schools are parallel, as Duke was founded in 1838 and Villanova and Notre Dame were founded in 1842, according to their respective Web sites.

These days the University projects a broad national reputation with prospective students, their families and with high school guidance counselors, Merritt said.

This reputation has been built by multiple factors: successful alumni, satisfied students and parents, national rankings, active communication and athletics. In fact, during the ’08-’09 admission cycle the University received applications from all 50 states, DC, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rica, Guam and approximately 55 international locations.

The cultures of the Villanova, Duke and Notre Dame are similar, as Christian heritage and school pride resonate throughout all their campuses.

“I believe school spirit plays a significant role in a lot of ways,” Nicastro said. “Not only in enrollment, but in regular campus visits and Candidates’ Day, when high school students are here and thinking of enrolling, Villanova’s positive spirit affects people.”

“We annually research the reasons why students choose to come to the University,” Merritt said. “Typically, students indicate ‘Academic Reputation’ as the primary driver of their decision to enroll.  Students and their parents are often looking for a holistic University experience where they can grow academically, personally and spiritually.As a Catholic Augustinian university, Villanova is also a desirable choice because of our long held philosophy of transforming minds and hearts.”

In “College Admission Trade Secrets,” author Andrew Allen discusses the weight universities put into their sports programs, as they understand the impact a strong team, primarily basketball or football, has on the overall school.

Having a nationally recognized sports team subsequently makes the school nationally recognized, as well.

In a 2006 article “The Impact of Elite Individual Athletic Performance on University Applicants for Admission in NCAA Division I-A Football,” published by the United States Sports Academy, Chad McEvoy researched the effect schools with big sports programs had on prospective students.

“The media has used the term ‘Flutie Factor’ to describe the potential impact success in intercollegiate athletics may have on recruiting students, not just student-athletes, to attend colleges and universities,” McEvoy said. “The origin of the term ‘Flutie Factor’ is the 30 percent increase in admissions applicants to Boston College following quarterback Doug Flutie winning the Heisman Trophy.”

According to the article, other schools have witnessed the “Flutie Factor,” including Georgetown University, with a 45 percent increase in the number of applicants in the mid-1980s after three showings in the Final Four.

Similarly, Gonzaga University saw its application pool increase by 59 percent from 1997 to 2000 after three successful years for the basketball team.

“The regular season exposure that Villanova gets — that other schools do not — helps with the name recognition of the school,” Nicastro said. “The key has been our opportunity to be on the national stage and representing Villanova in the best possible light. Coach Wright and all the players on the team have been outstanding in exemplifying Villanova.”

Since 2004, Villanova’s pool has risen by 39 percent, according to statistics from U.S. News & World Report’s annual “America’s Best Colleges” from recent years. Villanova’s presence in the NCAA tournaments since 2005 appears to be a “Flutie Factor” for the University.

Highly publicized sports scandals prove to have no effect on the number of students interested in an institution. In the wake of Duke’s lacrosse scandal in 2006, the university still had a rise of nearly 2,000 applicants.

“The next admission cycle begins in September and all applications are due the first week of January,” Merritt said. “As I mentioned, most prospective students and their families, while interested in the team, will make their choice to apply based on the University’s reputation which is broader and stronger than ever.”