March was an exciting month at Loyola. From Donte Ingram’s buzzer beater in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to making it all the way to the Final Four, the Loyola men’s basketball team was a big topic around campus.
The success from the NCAA tournament has made the university more recognizable and drawn more students to the school. Tom Sorboro, senior associate athletics director of external operations, said the exposure will continue to have effects as more people know Loyola.
“We’re a more recognizable brand now then we were this time last year,” Sorboro said. “All of the visibility from the Final Four, the national media [and] the attention has made Loyola a more relevant brand certainly in the greater Chicagoland area, but also nationally.”
Athletics director Steve Watson said Loyola’s national recognition has helped resonate the school with where it is located — more people know the Ramblers are from Chicago. He said since Loyola Chicago is one of four universities in the United States with “Loyola” in it, the Final Four run has helped push Loyola Chicago to the forefront.
“We’re much more on the radar screen now,” Watson said. “We don’t get the questions of: ‘Are you Loyola Maryland or Loyola Marymount,’ or even in Chicago where we get, ‘Are you Loyola Academy?’ I think the visibility has been fantastic for the school.”
Sorboro said going to the Final Four is a remarkable feat, and when you’re affiliated to the school that goes there, a sense of pride is brought about. He said people become more inclined to get involved and show their support.
“It helps in a number of levels certainly ticket sales,” Sorboro said. “We’ve grown our season ticket sales certainly over last year. We have more engagement with our alumni. We’ve seen significant interest in the local retail market.”
Since the end of the tournament, Sorboro said more than 30 retail locations in the Chicago area — including Target, Walmart, Kohls and Dick’s Sporting Goods — have started carrying Loyola gear. Sorboro said these are places which have never held Loyola gear before.
“I think if you talked to our non-basketball coaches, they’d tell you that it has really helped them with their recruiting,” Watson said. “Potential recruits are much more aware of who Loyola is and we’ve been able to get involved with some recruits that we may not have been able to get involved with before.”
Sorboro said being a student-athlete at Loyola has taken on a new meaning, one that is both more recognizable and lively.
“It’s made for a fun experience for them,” Sorboro said. “Going home to places, it’s exciting to say you are a Loyola student-athlete. To wear apparel that’s got the script ‘Loyola’ across the chest, people recognize that and appreciate that.”
The energy and school spirit didn’t end with the Final Four run. Students have made an effort to support all teams, as there has been an increase in attendance at most fall sports games.
Women’s volleyball has had a 70 percent increase of student attendance since last year. Men’s soccer has the biggest year-to-year difference with an 120 percent increase, but women’s soccer student attendance has decreased by 50 percent, according to director of Marketing and Ticket Operations Brian Day.
“We had our best attendance ever from our students last year during basketball season, and I think we’ve seen a spill-over in our fall sports as well,” Watson said. “Our [men’s] soccer games and our volleyball games, we’ve had great student turnout and I definitely think that will continue when we head into the winter with women’s and men’s basketball.”
Day said the women’s soccer student attendance decrease is most likely due to having half of the team’s home matches done after Labor Day weekend.
Not only has the success of the basketball team impacted attendance at fall sports games, but it’s also impacted the amount of students on campus. The Phoenix reported the class of 2022 is the largest class in Loyola history with 2,924 students enrolled — 117 students more than the class of 2021.
Applications for entrance into the university are due Feb. 1, which is before March Madness starts. National Decision Day isn’t until May 1, so Sorboro said it’s possible the Ramblers success caused an influx of students enrolling into the university.
“The numbers show there has been an increase in — I don’t want to speak for admissions — but I believe there is an increase in enrollment applications,” Sorboro said. “The question is whether it’s correlated. Did they just happen to time out that way or if it was causal. I’m not in a position to say that the Final Four success actually caused it, but there definitely is a correlation — we saw growth.”
Watson said he believes this year’s class was decided before the run to the Final Four, but it could definitely have an impact on future class sizes at Loyola.
Watson said the athletics department has already increased promotions in order to keep up with the excitement of the Class of 2022. Not only did men’s basketball head coach Porter Moser talk to incoming first-years at new student orientations, but they have some other plans to encourage student participation as well.
“Spring break is during Arch Madness this year, so we’re working on doing some things to try to get students to take their spring break down in St. Louis,” Watson said. “We’re in the planning stages of that right now.”
Last year’s Final Four run has given the school momentum and has the campus buzzing about what the future holds, according to Watson.
“It’s been fantastic, not just for the men’s basketball team, but for the entire athletics department and the university as a whole,” Watson said. “It’s changed the way people look at Loyola University Chicago.”