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Campus Overload
Posted at 06:26 PM ET, 04/02/2011

VCU’s Final Four foray brings record-levels of attention


With each game that the Virginia Commonwealth University men’s basketball team wins, the Richmond school gains even more attention. It’s no secret that going far in the NCAA tournament gives universities unprecedented amounts of practically free publicity — but what exactly does that mean?

It means 11 million Web hits. In one day.

When VCU beat top-seeded Kansas and broke into the Final Four on Sunday, millions of people did some online research. That day “Virginia Commonwealth University” was the No. 1 hot search trend on Google. The second most popular search term was “vcu.” That day the university’s main homepage, vcu.edu, received 11 million hits. The athletics Web site got 6 million hits of its own. (The Sunday before, as March Madness got rolling, the main university page received about 4 million hits.)

It means more media coverage.

Between Friday, March 25, and Monday, March 28, VCU was mentioned or featured by the media at least 3,200 times. Typically, the university only gets about 300 mentions in that time period. There have also been tens of thousands of VCU mentions on Twitter.

The last time the university came close to receiving this much attention was in 2002 when chemistry professor John B. Fenn won the Nobel Prize for chemistry.

It means more friends, followers and engaged alumni.

VCU’s Facebook fan page has been quickly gaining likes and is now up to more than 39,700. At one point the audience was growing four-and-a-half times faster than normal. Twitter followers are also up.

But officials are paying special attention to the VCU Alumni Facebook page, which is quickly gaining followers and is now up to more than 5,700. Although the university’s founding date is 1838, it officially became the institution it is today in 1968 when the General Assembly merged two schools together. Given its youth in the higher-ed world, VCU has had difficulty uniting its alumni from across generations, said Pamela D. Lepley, executive director of university relations.

March Madness helps. "Alum will tell you they are engaging like never before," Lepley said. "We're a young school, so this is manna from heaven for engaging alumni."


It means more interest in admissions.

Other universities have found that March Madness success quickly translates into admissions success, with more applications from a wider range of students. It will be months before VCU will learn if the same is true for them, but when the team moved to the Elite Eight the admissions Web site saw a spike in hits, Lepley said.

"It certainly makes recruiting easier," she said. "Now you don't have to explain who VCU is."

The university has already accepted students for this fall's freshman class, but Lepley said the statewide burst of spirit might help to enroll students who got in but are still debating where to go. (It helps that several high schools across the state encouraged students to dress in VCU colors this week.)

And Saturday night’s game could make a long-lasting impact: A recent survey of incoming VCU freshman found that some first latched onto VCU in 2007 when they were in middle school and watched VCU player Eric Maynor score a winning shot against Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

It means a long line at the campus bookstore.

Everyone now wants a VCU t-shirt — and a Sweet 16 one and an Elite Eight shirt and a Final Four shirt. The campus bookstore has been getting shipment after shipment, and long lines usually always snake through the store. On Friday, bookstore employees sold huge piles of Final Four shirts for about $22 each.

It means a lot of black and gold. Everywhere.

Anne L. Buckley, VCU’s director of communications and public relations, has been monitoring all of the VCU attention in the past two weeks. But her favorite metric is going for a two-mile walk through her neighborhood in Bon Air each morning.

"Everyday I see more houses that have put a VCU flag up," she said. "The pride is everywhere."

To see more photos I snapped on campus, check out my Facebook photo alum.

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By  |  06:26 PM ET, 04/02/2011

 
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