Last year it was Middle Tennessee State. This year, the Cinderella of college basketball’s March Madness tournament could be Jacksonville State or Troy University.
Most college basketball fans don’t expect those 15-seed schools to make it past their first-round games against powerhouses Duke and Louisville. Anything can happen during March Madness, though, and an upset win could make the schools more competitive off the court as well.
A Bloomberg analysis found that enrollment at schools that upset a team ranked more than 10 spots ahead of them in the tournament see an enrollment increase of 7 percent in the following year. Of course, most low-ranked teams don’t make it very far in the tournament. The lowest ranked team to ever win the tournament was eight-seed Villanova, which took the title in 1985.
Still, for schools that don’t often get invited to the dance, participation alone can drum up interest among applicants. Enrollment went up an average of 4 percent across all schools participating in the highly visible tournament. And it was most notable at schools that aren’t known for their basketball programs.
In addition to higher enrollment, schools report that participation in the tournament can also lead to higher merchandise sales and bigger alumni donations.
Overall, however, most prospective applicants don’t put much weight on a college’s athletic program when choosing a school. Less than a quarter of students said that a college’s sports teams were important to them when deciding where to attend school, according to a 2015 study by Think Tank New America.