By Mack Liederman, Molly Bandelli
Like many other WHS students, sophomore Jacob Obsgarten will be watching the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament this weekend. The school he’ll be rooting for is not just his favorite team; it’s also the college he hopes to attend. And he’s not alone. The NCAA Tournament has become known for attracting both viewers and applications.
For applicants, a major enticement is the success of a school’s athletics program. A 2013 study by the University of Chicago School of Business shows that just making the NCAA Tournament boosts the number of undergraduate applications that a school receives the following fall.
It’s a phenomenon known as the “Flutie Effect,” named after Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie, who threw a “Hail Mary” game-winning touchdown pass to upset the University of Miami in 1984. In the next two years, applications for BC rose 30 percent, according to research conducted by Harvard Professor Douglas J. Chung.
Obsgarten wishes to attend the University of North Carolina, a No. 1 seed in this year’s tournament. “[Division 1] and March Madness status allows you to be a part of something special,” Obsgarten said. “It offers you opportunities that you wouldn’t have at other schools.”
Many college-committed WHS seniors feel the same way. Senior Matt Busardo, who will be attending Syracuse University in the fall, said that watching the Orange in March Madness played a role in his college decision. “Syracuse having a good sports program and consistently being in the NCAA Tournament certainly contributed to my decision,” said Busardo.
While schools like Syracuse and UNC have long, storied athletic histories, other schools have gained visibility by bolstering athletics. According to the Harvard study, Georgetown University’s surge to the top of college basketball in the mid-1980s brought a 45-percent increase in applications. When little-known Butler University made the NCAA finals in 2010 and 2011, applications rose by 40 percent, according to washingtonpost.com.
Texas A&M received a Flutie rise after Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman trophy as a freshman in 2010. Now, the Aggies are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years, and senior Erik Swanson will be attending the school next year. “I wanted a school that has a lot of school spirit, and good sports often go hand in hand with that, but it’s not the sole reason I’m going there,” said Swanson.
But will he go as far as picking his own future school in his bracket to win the tournament? “Of course,” said Swanson. “It’s worth a shot.”