Florida Gulf Coast's enrollment spikes

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Your other option? Make it big in March.

Last March, Florida Gulf Coast made it bigger than most. Thanks not only to two first-weekend upsets (Georgetown and San Diego State) but to the hows of those wins (lots of running and dunking and jumping and cheering), the Eagles were a national sensation, dubbed “Dunk City,” that captured the heart of even the most casual of fans. Florida weather reporters changed their readouts. Shots of FGCU’s ocean-front campus were nearly as plentiful as those of coach Andy Enfield’s wife. It was a thing.

And, surprise, surprise, enrollment applications to Florida Gulf Coast University experienced what the Ft. Myers News-Press called an “unprecedented spike”:

FGCU has seen an unprecedented surge in freshmen applications, a 35.4 percent year-over-year spike that President Wilson Bradshaw would like to think is a result of surging academic prestige. He knows that’s not the sole reason, though.

“Our visibility in basketball certainly didn’t hurt,” Bradshaw said. “We have to acknowledge that.”

With all due respect, President Bradshaw, yes you do, because there is no other cause to acknowledge.

The correlation would be too strong in the absence of previous basketball-related exposure evidence, but there is plenty of precedent there, too. In 2006, a George Mason professor published a study claiming the Final Four-qualifying Patriots had received roughly $677 million in free advertising; its enrollment spiked by 350 percent. In 2010, after Butler’s inches-away loss to Duke in the national title game, the university estimated it received about $410 million in free exposure. It received a 41 percent increase in admissions applications. And in 2012, BYU professors discovered that successful runs in football and basketball correlated with steadier, more sustainable increases in interest.

And that’s not even figuring for donations, ticket sales, subscriptions, merchandise, and the other ways colleges manage to squeeze money out of sports success. That’s the uglier side of the Harvey Dent NCAA coin, of course, the one everyone notes when they rightly criticize amateurism. But the shiny side is the chance the NCAA’s marquee event provides budding academic institutions like FGCU, which will now select the best and brightest from its largest pool freshman applications ever. Even Eamonn Brennan Strategies can’t compete with that.