Final Four runs huge off the court, too

It's no surprise to learn that Butler and Virginia Commonwealth stand to gain huge amounts of otherwise nonexistent exposure thanks to this year's run to the Final Four. The two schools are not neither top-of-mind for most sports fans, nor are they the kind of schools that casual sports interlopers would drop in random conversation. This week, they are. That's the kind of free advertising money -- especially the schools with budgets like Butler and VCU -- can't buy.

What if you did want to buy the Final Four exposure? What if you wanted to put a dollar figure on these miracle runs? Answer: You'd be spending a lot of cash.

A pair of pertinent figures come via NBC's Mike Miller. In 2006, a George Mason professor conducted a study on the Patriots' Final Four trip and concluded that George Mason had netted around $677 million worth of free advertising for the school during that run. According to Miller, when Butler went to the Final Four exactly 12 months ago, the school estimated it was worth about $450 million in exposure.

Of course, that doesn't include the tangible effects of that exposure. After George Mason's run, admissions inquiries increased 350 percent. Out-of-state applications increased 40 percent. At Butler, the school also saw an increase in admissions inquiries, as well as big boosts in ticket sales, alumni activity, donations and the number of students who identified Butler as an impressive balance of academics and athletics:

Current applicants seemed to go out of their way in their application essay to state that they were “interested in Butler before the NCAA tournament,” according to [Butler vice president for enrollment management Tom] Weede.

More telling, he said, is something his Admission staff members heard repeatedly during high school visits in fall 2010. The main memory that prospective students and their parents seemed to have of the Bulldogs’ involvement in the Final Four, Weede said, was of Butler being “the school whose basketball players went to class on the day of the championship game.”

That, my friends, is the kind of advertising money can't buy.

We make a lot of the amateurism quandary in college athletics. This is the time of year that the casual fans and the sportswriting generalists pop in to tell everyone just how corrupt college sports really are. All those old chestnuts exist for good reason. But the NCAA's massive nexus of cash and TV time can do plenty of positive things for its member institutions, and not just in a monetary sense. This sort of exposure is just one of those things.

Anyway, throw in increased interest from recruits and, well, yeah: If you're a mid-major school looking to boost admissions applications and increase your academic profile, the best recommendation is to get really good at basketball. Failing that, I suppose a cute mascot couldn't hurt.