Penn Station was littered with blue and white jerseys and shirts on Saturday, March 12. Seton Hall was the top trend in the United States on Twitter. The Pirates were fresh off of defeating No. 3 Villanova in the Big East Tournament Championship at Madison Square Garden.
Just a day later – while watching on a giant projector screen alongside roughly 1,000 fans in Walsh Gymnasium – Seton Hall’s men’s basketball team heard its name called on Selection Sunday.
Now, as the Pirates prepare for a first-round NCAA Tournament matchup with Gonzaga, Seton Hall is on top of the world.
This is the first time Seton Hall has a ticket to the Big Dance in over a decade. With the feat comes plenty of buzz. With the buzz comes prosperity for a school that usually is not at the forefront of many minds outside of South Orange.
“It’s fantastic,” Seton Hall Athletic Director Pat Lyons said of the team’s success. “Our brand is fantastic. The school is in such a great position already and overall with Dr. Esteban’s vision. Enrollment is up. Academic profile is up. Fundraising is up. Buildings are going up all the time. This just compliments that.”
Actually, athletic success like this does more than compliment for a school like Seton Hall. It shines a light on it.
While sports are most certainly not the be all and end all in regards to what makes a university great, they are perhaps the most effective way of getting people through the door. When a program like Seton Hall – barren of any recent postseason success – takes down two teams in the AP Top 5 on its way to a conference championship and NCAA Tournament appearance, people talk.
Every Pirate victory is another excuse for people to say “Seton Hall.” It’s an excuse for the school to be featured on SportsCenter and the back page of the New York Post. With the attention comes that great brand recognition Lyons talked about. Seton Hall is not just some small Catholic school in northern New Jersey as March Madness approaches. No, instead the school is home to one of the hottest college basketball teams in America.
That garners more recognition from the masses than enrollment numbers, a strong academic reputation or new buildings ever will, yet makes possible all of those things and even greater University prosperity. Fair or not, exceptional basketball is Seton Hall’s best way to advertise its overall product.
As prospective students – both athletic and academic recruits – go through the college application process this spring, the likes of Isaiah Whitehead, Kevin Willard and company will have these kids thinking about the Hall. Chances are, the run this team is on – a run that is not yet over – will have a positive impact on next year’s enrollment.
As Lyons said, this is a fantastic time for Seton Hall. That applies to a lot more than just the basketball team.
Gary Phillips is a journalism major from Ramsey, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GaryHPhillips.