Eastern Kentucky University men's basketball team, along with its coaches and many fans are back in Richmond after a trip to St. Louis. The Colonels exerted a solid effort against Kansas before coming up short in their one NCAA contest. But, the March madness appearance is expected to have lasting impacts on and off the court.
Friday's NCAA appearance wasn't a first for former E-K-U Sports Information Director Carl Park. He's been following the Colonels for decades and realizes tournament exposure reaches thousands of miles away. "Just untold, the amount of exposure you get from all around the country and you could be recruiting a player out of Montana or Idaho and we're on the map," said Park. Park, who maintains a close contact with the basketball program, says Eastern needs five more recruits to sign. The Ohio Valley Conference, of which E-K-U is a member, benefits financially. And of course, in a day when the television listings are full of basketball games, O-V-C Commissioner Beth Debush says TV coverage is a selling point. "The more programs on television, the more attractive it is to recruits and families and they think of institutions and certainly from an admissions and attraction standpoint, you cannot buy the exposure you get from being in the NCAA men's basketball tournament," said Debush. The tournament attention comes from all forms of media. While the television broadcasts are front and center, according to the university's Interim Vice President for Marketing and Communications Mark Sandy, EKU was also recognized in far-away print publications. "Everything from being on the front of the U.S.A Today and then the LA Times and then our Marcus Lewis going to the final four for the dunk contest, whatever it is, you try to build on that momentum and capture it while you can," said Sandy. The impact of an NCAA basketball berth can be measured within athletics and within the Eastern campus as a whole. Acting Athletics Director Simon Gray said increased season ticket sales and fundraising opportunities are possible. Still, he said the number one goal is to expose the school and get more applications. Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Michael Eastman said an appearance can turn academic-minded heads. "You know, I ought to find out what's going on there more or I'd like to support them this year because I know they can always use the funds and sports is a great way to connect people whether it's on the academic side or the learning side or possibly employment in higher ed," said Eastman. "All of those things, if it's positive, it's always good news." Eastman said fundraising is a never-ending process in higher ed. He says it used to be states provided all the funds needed, but now state schools are raising money for themselves. E-K-U President Michael Benson said a yet-to-be-announced capital campaign can get a boost from post-season basketball play. "We still haven't set that amount, so I don't want to suggest anything right now, but that will be part of our plan moving forward, now much we feel we can raise. It will be a stretch goal," said Benson. "It will be more than we've ever raised before, but we feel like we're ready for it. Events like this that generate excitement on the part of people, certainly help." Benson was recognized for fundraising accomplishments in his previous job as president at Southern Utah University. That included exceeding an ultimate goal of 100 million dollars. So the attention given to basketballs going through the hoop can lead to other benefits like dollars for academics and students coming for campus visits.