For college basketball fans, March Madness is the most exciting time of the year. And since everyone loves an underdog, it's the teams who are least likely to win upsetting the predictable champions that captivate the largest audience. Throughout the history of the NCAA tournament, there have been some crazy March Madness Cinderella stories that have dazzled basketball audiences all over the country. And they can have some unexpected effects on their colleges. Not only do underdog stories uplift a basketball community and foster pride in the school, Cinderella stories can boost enrollment in schools.
According to Bloomberg, which analyzed Department of Education data, colleges may see anywhere from a 10 to 30 percent increase in enrollment after defeating a much higher-seeded team and receiving the national media attention that comes with March Madness, as well as the particular microscope on crazy Cinderella stories (like the Michigan Wolverines this year).
For example, after Wichita State's 2013 descent to the Final Four, the university received nearly 30 percent more applications. In 2011, Butler had already been seeing an increase in applications, but after narrowly losing the national title to Duke in 2010, application rate went up 41 percent, according to USA Today.
This all makes a lot of sense. Even if the attention doesn't directly translate to enrollment, the exposure can lead to the schools seeing more Google searches, visitors to their websites, and possibly visits to their campus. All around, more high school students and parents of high school students who pay attention to March Madness may become aware of a school through the games. USA Today even reported that Cinderella story schools can see a hike in donations for several years after the tournament.
The first NCAA tournament was played in 1939, making this its 78th year. However, it wasn't originally a national tournament. Only eight teams were included in the first iteration. Since then, it's become the largest and most anticipated college basketball tournament. In 2011 the league officially established the 68-team tournament we know today. In that time, many teams have risen and fallen in the ranks, and some have made impressive jumps from the bottom to the top.
Overall, performing as a Cinderella team probably isn't going to magically make everyone want to attend a particular school, but it can sometimes give enrollment a nice little boost. Anything that can help put a small college on the map and mind of prospective students is a good thing, so the NCAA tournament definitely serves multiple positive purposes for the players, fans, and the university itself.