For a brief period of time during the NCAA Tournament, the Loyola men’s basketball team was arguably the hottest commodity in the sports world.
Interview requests for head coach Porter Moser and his players went through the roof. Sister Jean became an international celebrity, appearing on on all three national nightly news broadcasts, NPR and Access Hollywood among others.
March was an equally chaotic time for the athletics department, which was responding to the influx of media requests.
Bill Behrns, assistant athletic director of communications, said keeping up with the media demand was nearly impossible.
“I’ve never seen that many emails, text messages [and] phone calls,” Behrns said. “It had to be several hundred [emails], it could have even gotten close — when you factor in the Sister Jean stuff — it could have even approached a thousand.”
Ryan Haley, assistant athletic director of communications, had to jump onto the men’s basketball duty during the tournament to help manage the workload.
Before the Sweet 16, media demand for Sister Jean became so high Haley had to exclusively handle her requests. For a short time, the “Sister Jean duty” was created.
In San Antonio, the NCAA made things easier for Haley because Sister Jean had her own press conference.
“It was just having that one point where it was like ‘alright she’s going to be available from 9:55-10:10 a.m.’ — I’m never going to forget those times — ‘on that Friday’ … That was it,” Haley said.
After expecting maybe 20 people to show up, Haley was shocked by the number in attendance.
“We got to the door and I was like ‘Why are all these people here? Is there a coach in there?’ Or something like that,” Haley said. “Then we walked in and I was like ‘Oh they’re all waiting for her’ and there was just 100-some people in there.”
The workload increased for everybody on the staff. Austin Hansen, director of video production, is responsible for all videos of the Ramblers posted on social media websites. He said the increase in work was apparent, but welcomed.
“The workload basically overnight [from first round to second round] almost felt like it doubled which was really cool,” Hansen said. “We got more Twitter followers, we got more Facebook likes [and] we got more Youtube subscribers.”
The Loyola athletics Instagram account gained close to 16,000 new followers during the tournament and became verified, according to Jeremiah McCallie, the director of creative services who helps run the sports teams’ social media accounts. The men’s basketball Twitter account also became verified, gaining 25,000 new followers.
From the beginning of the season to its close at the Final Four, the staff was able to witness the team’s meteoric rise in media coverage and popularity.
“You look at the first media day we had with the team, it was me and Marcus [Mercer], who was the marketing guy at the time,” Hansen said. “It was just us.”
There was a big difference compared to the big production Hansen saw at the Ramblers’ TBS media shoot prior to the Final Four.
“They had all these lights and smoke machines and 200 actors that look like Loyola students … it was a true Hollywood-esque shoot,” Hansen said.
The other big difference was the star power present at the NCAA tournament.
Hansen recalled seeing Houston Rockets point guard Chris Paul in the elevator at the team’s hotel in San Antonio. Before the Final Four game against Michigan, Behrns and the players met with the TBS announcing team of Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill. Haley said by the end of the tournament, ESPN reporter Andy Katz was referring to him on a first-name basis.
“That’s the crazy part about the Final Four: Everywhere you turn there’s a different celebrity,” Hansen said.
However, most of the celebrities wanted to meet with Sister Jean. From Dick Vitale to Bill Walton and Tony Parker to Charles Barkley, celebrities made a point to say hello to the 98-year-old team chaplain.
“[Charles Barkley] was like, ‘Sister Jean, it’s on my bucket list to meet you,’” Hansen said.
At the time of the tournament, Behrns said it was difficult to realize how amazing the tournament run was in the thick of it. Now that he’s had some time to reflect, it’s setting in.
“Those are things that are surreal and in the moment, you’re not really thinking about it,” Behrns said. “But these last three [to] four weeks now that the season’s been done, you’re like ‘you know what, everything that happened has been unbelievably cool.’”
As of time of publication, Behrns said things hadn’t completely calmed back down yet from a media standpoint, but it was no longer at the fever pitch it reached in March.