The Loyola men’s basketball team had an improbable run in the NCAA tournament. After becoming the “Cinderella” story of March Madness, people have started taking notice of the school.
The buzz around Loyola doesn’t stop with the basketball team. The impact has been seen all around campus and has affected some of the other athletic programs.
Rooting for the basketball team together has created bonding opportunities for other players, such as the softball team, that they wouldn’t have had before. Softball head coach Jeff Tylka said it gets them off of always talking about softball and classes and gets them to rally under a common theme.
“It’s been amazing for our girls,” Tylka said. “They’ve been locked in since the opening round game. Whether we’re on a bus trip or we’re at the hotel or wherever we are, we’ve had to plan all of our itineraries around when [the basketball] game is.”
Tylka said when the team stopped to eat on the way to play Bradley University, the players tuned into the game. Writers for the Peoria Journal Star were there and wrote an article about the players supporting their fellow athletes.
“It’s been really special from our [first-years] all the way to our seniors,” Tylka said. “How they’ve all been engaged with it. They’re friends with a bunch of the basketball players, so conversations that I can have with them like ‘Hey, what is he like off the court?’ and those types of things helps them bond a lot.”
While Loyola’s March Madness run served as a bonding experience for the softball team, it created practice opportunities for the men’s golf team. Head coach Erik Hoops said he encouraged his players to go down to the games and root for Loyola. The golfers were able to bring their clubs with them and practice in a warmer climate while cheering on the Ramblers.
“I’ve had guys on my team wanting to go down to games and I’m like ‘Yeah, go ahead and go,’” Hoops said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I didn’t want to be the coach who made them miss out on this. I wanted them to just go and soak in the whole experience.”
While it’s been great for the athletics department, Hoops said it’s also been great to see the spirit around campus. He said it’s been a cool experience for him as a coach and an alum to see the students get behind the men’s basketball team in a capacity they hadn’t before.
“Everyone always walks around wearing Loyola gear, but it was with the university official seal,” Hoops said. “Now it’s all Loyola athletics gear, Loyola basketball gear, Final Four gear and everything. That’s something I never knew I would see on the Loyola campus and it’s been phenomenal.”
Seeing the men’s basketball team succeed and go so far has also brought about a new mentality for the sports teams. Tylka said it motivated his players to strive toward an entirely new level.
“It’s added an extra pep to our girls’ step,” Tylka said. “It’s something that I think most of the athletes in the department feel the excitement with it and they take that type of ‘Why not us?’ mentality into their games as well.”
The amount of coverage Loyola has received is creating recruiting opportunities coaches didn’t have before. Since Loyola has been put on the map, there’s an increase in players reaching out to the university with a higher interest.
“Now our job [as coaches] got easier because we don’t have to look as hard [for recruits] but it got harder because now all of a sudden our recruiting goes up,” Hoops said. “We are going to have better players looking at us because they’re seeing Loyola and see it as a legitimate, cool opportunity, and now we have to zero in on getting those guys in.”
While the team’s success has had an impact on the athletics department through boosting morale and widening its recruiting scope, it’s also going to have an impact across the entire campus, according to athletics director Steve Watson.
“I think the happiest guy on campus might be the VP [Vice President] of Admissions … because I think that whole Flutie effect where the applications start rolling in at a higher rate. We’re excited about that,” Watson said.
The term “Flutie effect” comes from quarterback Doug Flutie who threw a Hail Mary for Boston College in 1984 and, afterward, applications to the school increased by 30 percent.
Loyola already attracts students from various backgrounds, but the increased publicity from Chicago media and national news platforms allows for a bigger outreach.
“I think we attract some of the top-level academic minds of kids in high school to begin with,” Tylka said. “But this is going to put Loyola on the forefront even more to get [its] name and logo in front of eyes that maybe wouldn’t have known that Loyola exists or how beautiful the campus is.”