Applicants for Championship Winners

Geoffrey Dean, Staff Writer

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Just over a month ago, the Virginia Cavaliers cut down the nets in Minneapolis, Minnesota after winning the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament.  The team flooded the court and hoisted the trophy in celebration. But based on history, we have to believe that the University of Virginia will benefit from this win beyond just hardware in their trophy case.

Every team since Florida won the National Championship in 2006 has seen an increase in applicants the following year.  Every single team. So clearly, athletics is an integral part of the college experience if a successful basketball team is able to increase application numbers.  Take for instance Villanova University, who hadn’t won a championship since 1985, but won the title in 2016, saw a 30% increase in applicants the next year.

Even the University of Kentucky, who has won eight national championships, the second most in college basketball, saw a 31% increase after winning the title in 2012.  

However, the argument can be made that this particular title run for the Kentucky Wildcats was made possible at the courtesy of once in a blue moon talent, Anthony Davis.  As a result, Kentucky became a household and fan favorite team as they stomped their way through the NCAA tournament. Following the victory, Davis was the unanimous number one pick in the NBA draft that June.  This tale is very similar to a certain athlete who drew similar comparisons in regards to collegiate dominance.

Zion Williamson.  The charming, high flying, physical anomaly, human highlight reel with a smile that will knock you out is officially headed to the NBA draft.  Despite being gone from Duke, the one and done superstar will leave his size 14 footprint in Durham. According to the Duke Chronicle, “The Class of 2023 had a regular decision acceptance rate of 5.7 percent…”  The class of 2023 applicant pool was also the largest in Duke history, and 11.5% bigger than the previous year. While the increase in applicants cannot be solely the result of Zion Williamson and attention his 52 show stopping dunks have received this season, but they are certainly some aspect of it.  During Williamson’s freshman year, Duke played 33 games on national television, 28 games of which were on ESPN, the biggest sports media outlet in the world. As a result, Duke’s brand as a university got a great deal of publicity, and with the added virality of social media, Zion’s highlights were all over the internet night in and night out.  Furthermore, this bump in applications all occurred without Duke even making the Final Four, let alone winning a National Championship.

Even for teams that don’t have superstars, March Madness success does wonders for them.  For George Mason University, the largely commuter school on the outskirts of Washington DC, an immaculate Final Four run in 2006 boosted applicants by 23%.  Four years later, Butler University, who’s cinderella run came up short at the hands of the Duke Blue Devils in the National Championship Game, saw an increase in applicants of 41% the following application cycle.  In essence, a trip to the national championship game gave Butler three applicants for every two applicants they had the year before.

It must kept in mind that the population of the United States is increasing, therefore the number of students going to college should, in theory, be increasing, and furthermore the number of applicants should, again in theory, be increasing.  Therefore, we would need to adjust our applicant numbers for inflation to get an accurate representation of this phenomenon. In doing so, it is revealed that in the years that originally had the greatest percentage growth in applications, the numbers actually grew when adjusted for inflation, due to a drop in US college enrollment.

So for all the entertainment that March Madness provides for the fans, it also carries tremendous weight for the universities partaking in the madness.  We will wait to see if the high school class of 2020 has a lot of teens hoping to become Virginia Cavaliers.