March Madness nets big benefits for Cinderella schools

Isaiah Canaan #3 of the Murray State Racers goes up for a shot during the third round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament on March 17, 2012 in Louisville, Ky. The NCAA basketball tournament is a great way for smaller schools like Murray State to get exposure, prestige -- and alumni donations.

Kai Ryssdal: We have arrived at that marker of springtime, that harbinger of warmer weather to come: Yes, the Sweet 16 of the men's NCAA basketball tournament.

Play resumes this evening, with most of the Cinderellas knocked out -- schools like Belmont, Norfolk State or Lehigh. But the publicity of merely being in the Big Dance means big dollars, even if you don't get to the Final Four.

Jim Burress reports.


Jim Burress: Few expected 13-seed Ohio University to make the "Sweet 16." But the Bobcats have.

Roderick McDavis: When your team shines on the national level, it draws attention to the university.

That's Ohio University's president, Roderick McDavis. He says for two weeks now, his school's been basking in media attention. It's perfect timing: The university's nearing the end of a $450 million capital campaign.

McDavis: We believe this will help our alumni to make generous contributions to the university. That's what we're betting on.

But even teams that didn't make it this far expect big returns. Take Murray State University. Last week, Murray State fans packed a Louisville hotel to send off their team in the NCAA's first round.

This scene isn't unheard of. Over the past decade, the rural western Kentucky school has been to the tournament five times. This year, every time someone like ESPN's Dick Vitale mentioned Murray State...

Dick Vitale: Let's go Racers, baby!

It translated into a bit of this:

Cha-ching

Randy Dunn is Murray State's president.

Randy Dunn: From when we really started to get national attention, right before the holidays up through the end of the run in the tournament, that's probably going to be in the vicinity of $10 million.

KC Brown is with Cision Global Analysts. He tracks stuff like this. Brown says success in sports can benefit everything from bookstore sales to government relations to alumni diplomas.

KC Brown: Every alum would see an increase in the value of the degree they got from Murray State.

And, Brown says, intense coverage can even change a university's image. That's not a bad thing, considering Ohio University was recently named the No. 1 party school in the nation.

In Louisville, I'm Jim Burress for Marketplace.

About the author

Jim Burress is a reporter for WABE in Atlanta.

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