Listen Up Loyola: Lessons from a Fellow NCAA Underdog

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Lessons from a fellow NCAA underdog

After the thrill of success comes the agony of having to do it again. In Loyola of Maryland’s case, their foray into the 2012 NCAA tournament — their first in nearly two decades — won’t be easy. They’re slated to play¬† Ohio State in Pittsburgh on Thursday. The Buckeyes are a 2 seed; Loyola is 15. According to the logic of seeding, they don’t stand a chance. But I can’t help but be hopeful, especially when I remember how people were talking in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia last year.

Back then, another small, obscure mid-Atlantic school with a charismatic coach and low expectations from the wider world made the tournament as a wild card pick. Then Virginia Commonwealth University went on to power through all the way to the Final Four. Their improbable success galvanized Richmond, and is still celebrated on billboards all over town. Here are a few lessons the Greyhounds could take from the Rams:

(1) Remember that it’s possible. Last year, VCU was essentially a 17 seed. In their first game, they destroyed Purdue (a 3 seed). The team had never made the Sweet 16 before. And I hear the Ohio State players are tired and have finals this week.

(2) After the first game, it gets easier. For a little while, at least. High-seeded teams play low-seeded teams in the first round, presumably in order to get rid of the little guys who have no chance. If Loyola manages to beat Ohio State, they’ll play the winner of the West Virginia/Gonzaga game — either a 10 seed or a 7 seed, respectively. That sounds a little more feasible, doesn’t it?

(3) Make sure to order enough merch. Last year, everyone in Richmond wanted a VCU Rams tshirt/sweatshirt/bowtie/chapeau. The problem was, only 29 stores sold the school’s merchandise. This year, 66 do.

(4) If all goes well, prepare for a surge in applications. You wouldn’t necessarily think that a good underdog basketball team would influence students’ college choices, but apparently it does. VCU received 2,000 more applications post-Final Four than it had the year before. It also saw a 40 percent increase in gifts to the school (and a 376 percent increase in donations to the athletic program!).

(5) Success has a cost. In order to keep their team at a high level (and retain the coach who had plenty of high-paying offers elsewhere), VCU tacked on a $50 fee to every student’s tuition bill. Would Loyola students be willing to foot the bill if their team made it that far? Judging from the enthusiasm we’ve seen so far, I don’t doubt it.

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