The NCAA tournament has a way of opening new doors. The Wichita State Shockers are finding that out.
No. 9 Wichita State bowed out of the Big Dance Saturday night, but it didn’t go quietly. The Shockers led for much of their Final Four contest with Louisville, silencing the doubters who didn’t believe the 10.5-point underdogs could even cover the spread against a dominant and motivated Cardinals squad.
Their four-point loss was a heartbreaking reminder of how cruel the Big Dance can be to Cinderella challengers, but it also highlights the turnaround it represents for many of those programs.
Butler and VCU are so often grouped together as two of basketball’s top mid-major programs. While both are led by incredible coaches with impressive accolades, Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens weren’t exactly household names prior to their recent success in postseason play.
It may take some time for the dust to settle, but Gregg Marshall isn’t far behind his mid-major contemporaries.
People don’t forget deep tournament runs and close brushes with college basketball glory. Right or wrong, one Final Four appearance can change everything for a team like Wichita State and everyone involved with the program.
With an undergraduate student body of 12,243 and a campus in Kansas that most people probably couldn’t find on a map at first glance, Wichita State isn’t exactly a well-known institution on the national stage.
Its basketball team hadn’t reached the Final Four since 1965 prior to this year, and despite NIT success and a NCAA tournament berth in recent years, the Shockers weren’t on anyone’s radar when the tournament began in March.
Consider that ancient history.
Notoriety is a major factor in college basketball recruiting, and Wichita State suddenly has the ammunition it needs to attract prospective recruits. At the very least, this year’s tournament success gives Marshall and his program a reason to believe new recruits and top prospects will give Wichita State a second look they probably wouldn't have prior to this season.
College basketball recruiting is all about momentum. Success begets more success, and a Final Four appearance in the NCAA tournament is sometimes all it takes to turn heads in the recruiting game.
And then there’s the money.
According to Alicia Jessop of Forbes.com, the financial impact of reaching the Final Four is certainly noticeable, especially for smaller programs like Wichita State:
"Teams participating in the Division I men’s basketball tournament earn one unit for each game that they play in, except for the championship game. Units correspond with a dollar amount designated by the NCAA. Last year, each unit was worth $242,200. This year, each unit is worth $245,500.
"Given this, Wichita State’s NCAA tournament appearance last year earned $242,000 from the basketball fund. This year’s appearance will be worth significantly more. As a result of making it to the Final Four, Wichita State, along with this year’s other Final Four participants–Louisville, Michigan and Syracuse–have earned $1,227,500 from the basketball fund."
While that money will get distributed throughout the Missouri Valley Conference, Wichita State stands to earn a considerable amount with which to continue building its basketball program. The foundation is certainly in place.
Money and publicity. No two things drive college athletics quite as significantly.
After and impressive string of postseason wins over some quality programs, Marshall and his team have put themselves in position to take advantage of both going forward. All it takes is one big tournament run to get the ball rolling.
Wichita State came up short of its ultimate goal in the tournament, but it has plenty of momentum to carry into next year—and hopefully many more to come.