“I’m cold. I’m wearing two pairs of pants,” said Paige Bigio, a freshman, who painted her body green and wore a shiny blue tube top. “This is crazy. No one knew about our school until now.”
National media outlets like CBS, ESPN and CNN descended on campus this week to film bits about the school and its basketball team. The team shocked the nation last weekend by downing No. 2 Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State to become the first 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16.
FGCU popped up in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and Sports Illustrated this week. It was also mentioned by David Letterman, Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon in their monologues on Monday.
“Every year what they hope to do is hope for a Cinderella team ... Well guess what, it’s happening this year. It’s a college called Florida Gulf Coast University,” Letterman said. “You either go there to play basketball or you major in oil spills.”
What the media blitz means for the university is not certain. University officials did not comment on whether they have seen an increase in admission form requests or calls from people wanting to visit the school.
But FGCU did see a spike in visits to its website this week, peaking at 230,985 unique visitors Monday, the day after the San Diego State victory. That’s up from 49,143 on a comparable Monday in late February.
History shows a good run in the tournament can translate to more students and more money.
After George Mason’s run in 2006, admissions inquiries increased 350 percent. Out-of-state applications for the Fairfax, Va., school increased 40 percent. The school also netted $677 million worth of free advertising, according to a 2008 study by George Mason Director of Sport Management Robert Baker, who studied the school’s 2006 Final Four trip.
Indianapolis-based Butler University, which went to the Final Four in 2010, estimated that the school received $450 million in free advertising as a result of its run. Applications increased from 6,760 in 2010 to 9.682 in 2012 fueled by two appearances in the Final Four, according to the Evansville Courier & Press.
Graduate student Megan Carter, who held a sign that said “We actually go to FGCU,” said the basketball team has done more for the school and the students than she thought possible. That’s something she appreciates as she begins to look for a job.
“It’s an awesome surprise,” she said of the team’s success. “They are wonderful to watch. They’re so much fun — it’s why the nation is pulling for them.”
M. Solomon Zarendy, an FGCU senior, waved banana leaves and cheered with the crowd Friday morning. He said he has a friendly rivalry with his sister, a University of Florida graduate, over the game.
“This school is amazing already, but this has been amazing,” he said.
Arlo Simonds, a junior, agreed.
“Most of us are from Florida and a lot of our friends went to UF and bragged about their sports teams,” he said. “Now we have something to brag about. It’s awesome to feel this way.”