The Benefits of Basketball

Sarah Stiglianese

Faces of pure disappointment filled campus on Saturday night, March 21, as students saw the Villanova dream of the NCAA championship title tragically come to an end.  

With the relative success of Villanova men’s basketball team this season, one can’t help but wonder how much the success of the basketball team contributes to admissions, exposure and fundraising for the University.  Ranked No. 2 in the country and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Villanova Wildcats have been all over sports news in every part of the country, despite their heartbreaking loss in the third round.

Even President Obama caught ‘Nova fever, picking Villanova to play in the championship game against Kentucky. 

Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Jill, (’91) fired back a twitter picture with Jay Wright captioned, “Glad to see the President of the United States picked @VillanovaU for the championship game but my alma mater will win it all #LetsMarchNOVA.” 

Michael Gaynor, Director of University Admissions, has spent more than 25 years serving prospective students, their families and Villanova. 

“Over the years our application numbers have clearly reflected the demographic trends of high school graduates and most certainly the twists and turns of our economy,” Gaynor commented. In 2009, Villanova had only received 13,098 applicants. As Wall Street recovered and after Villanova made a Final Four appearance, applications rebounded to 13,362 in 2010.   

Admitted students are able to witness the spirit of the Villanova community through our sports programs and events that are televised. “This oftentimes can swing the pendulum toward Villanova when making a final decision based on a long checklist regarding where to invest the next four years of their lives,” Gaynor added.     

Lawrence Flynn, Sports Co-Editor, admitted that when visiting colleges, he knew nothing about Villanova, but decided to visit on a trip to Philadelphia because of the successful basketball program. “Although Villanova has a strong regional presence in the Northeast, the basketball team having a strong season 

increases the University’s national recognition,” Flynn said.

Neil MacDonald, Assistant Copy Desk Chief feels that the popularity of the team “is a great illustration of just how much school spirit Villanova students have.” A member of the Villanova Ambassadors, MacDonald explains that “Some prospective students have been watching Villanova basketball their whole lives. Others don’t know much about the basketball culture here, but everyone is excited to get into the Pavilion student section and add their voice to a ‘whoosh, go!’” 

March Madness media coverage is also a strategic way for the University to gain publicity. Last year’s NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship had 21.2 million viewers, with the tournament games leading up to it having an average of 10.5 million viewers a week. With millions of viewers each game, it is a great vehicle to advertise not only through your team’s participation but also through commercials aired during the games. 

Ann Diebold, VP University Communication, helps to build up Villanova’s brand and reputation. The men’s basketball team’s success allows Villanova to tell its story to even more people. We get to talk about great things happening on and off the court. “It allows us to shine on what is unique and distinct about Villanova,” Diebold added. “Commentators often say we have a different kind of team that plays together so well, which is like Villanova itself.”

Marketing and Communication at Villanova has two goals. The first is to get people to recognize the name. The second is to have them get familiar with our story. 

“As we move through the tournament, it gives us great opportunity for the media to focus on us. Not just athletics, but the bookstore, academics, and other aspects of the University,” commented Diebold.

During the week of the Final Four in 2009, Villanova had over 730+ media prints in articles and on television and radio. That type of media coverage would cost over $6.8 million. “This publicity talks beyond basketball” Diebold said. “It discusses our academics and Augustinian values while also promoting our reputation and brand.”

Tim McMahon, Senior Associate VP for University Advancement, said that through the eyes of University Advancement, the fact that we have a successful Men’s Basketball team is great. 

In October 2013, the University launched a comprehensive campaign to fundraise $600 million. As of right now, it has reached about $420 million and is pushing to keep momentum. “It is hard to quantify statistics, but having a successful basketball program only helps visibility and enhances what we can achieve,” McMahon said. One way the University uses the tournament to its advantage is by utilizing its allotment of tickets to thank generous donors and to engage alumni. “We invite people in a proactive and strategic way,” he says. It is a great lever to get donors and alumni to get even more involved in the University and help fundraising and philanthropy.”

George Kolb, Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations, works to keep alumni connected and enthusiastic. “Since the Final Four appearance in 2009, we have tried to galvanize alumni and use that as a point to raise money,” Kolb commented.

Through Alumni Relations, game watching sites for alumni and parents are planned across the country. “We work to draw out alumni and bring them together around Villanova basketball,” Kolb added. “The University sends out communications regularly to remind them that no matter where they are in the country, they can find somewhere to unite with Villanova alumni and watch the game.” 

Vince Nicastro, who has been the Director of Athletics at Villanova for 15 years, believes that the Men’s Basketball team brings enormous benefits to the University during their many past years of success. “Attending the games has become a fabric of student experience at Villanova,” commented Nicastro.  

Nicastro feels that March Madness has brought about much exposure to the University, with a spotlight on the Men’s Basketball team. 

A number of different departments work collaboratively during tournament season, such as University Advancement, Alumni Relations and the Communication Office, in order to promote Villanova. “They try to leverage exposure to help lift the entire University—its values, programs, academics and mission,” Nicastro said.  “Although it takes much effort and coordination to do this, because we have had such a successful basketball team over the years, Villanova does a great job at using it to our advantage to advertise.” 

Nicastro’s final comment is that while it is difficult to measure fundraising, ticket and merchandise sales, the most important thing is the goodwill developed between alumni, students, and donors and the sense of pride that a successful basketball team builds, which is critically important to Villanova overall. “Villanova Athletics serves as a doorway for the University, providing exposure and kindling a certain spirit on campus,” Rev. Robert Hagan, O.S.A, Associate Athletics Director, explained. 

Hagan, an alumnus of Villanova, stressed the importance of Villanova basketball ‘s strong historical tradition. “It’s not just about the game,” Hagan said. “It’s about the brotherhood of the team and playing for the men who came before.” 

As the men’s basketball team chaplain, Hagan travels to away games and sits on the bench with the team. Prior to each tipoff, he performs a pre-game prayer. “You’ll always have a home here at Villanova, even if its tailgating with fellow alumni or reminiscing about past games as an undergraduate.” Even in our lowest moments and despite devastating losses like this past Saturday’s upset against NC State, basketball is a unifying force for the Villanova community.