Even though I’ve been gainfully employed at Wichita State for more than 26 years as director of news and media relations, I can honestly say I was surprised the impact a Final Four run has on an institution of higher learning.
The athletic department has its own media relations staff, so they took the brunt of media requests. Still, the amount of requests that spilled over into my area and other areas of the university were remarkable.
For example, the day before Wichita State’s game against Louisville in the Final Four, I was interviewed on a morning radio show in Lexington, Ky., just to talk about all things Wichita State and Wichita for about 15 minutes. I had no advance notice of the phone interview until it happened. That was a bit unnerving even if it was a friendly interview.
Lexington, of course, is home to the University of Kentucky, and the radio host said a lot of people there root for anyone who is in position to beat Louisville.
I also was interviewed briefly by National Public Radio to talk about some Wichita State trivia before the Final Four. When members of the media want to talk to someone, it’s interesting to what lengths it will go to find a warm body.
And then there was the e-mail to WSU’s website from a 70-year-old gentleman living in Arizona who grew up in Denver. He said he followed NCAA basketball for about 60 years, and he remembered when the University of Wichita came to play in the ’50s. Since they were the closest school geographically with an excellent team, he climbed on the bandwagon and has been a fan ever since.
During the NCAA Tournament, this fan called his last surviving uncle and said, “The Shockers are back.” His uncle thought he had lost his marbles. However, the longtime fan followed the team closely during its Final Four run.
Speaking of unexpected, how about the WSU Foundation receiving a gift from a Seattle man with no apparent connection to Wichita State? According to the Wichita Business Journal, the man contributed online to WSU’s College of Education. The foundation called him to get more information and learned that he’s a Washington Huskies fan.
The Huskies are a rival to Gonzaga, the No. 1 team in the West Region, whom the Shockers beat to make the Sweet 16.
The donor was elated that Wichita State beat Gonzaga, even linking to the WSU Foundation website on his Facebook page, encouraging other Husky fans to make similar gifts of appreciation.
Wichita State downplayed the Cinderella tag during March Madness, although it’s fair to say the Shockers, a No. 9 seed, were often the underdogs.
One Associated Press story pointed out that the entire basketball program at WSU runs on less than what Louisville coach Rick Pitino makes in a single year.
Reportedly, the Shockers run their basketball program on a budget of $3.1 million, which accounts for everything from coach Gregg Marshall’s salary to a recruiting budget, to transportation to road games and everything that comes with playing Division I sports.
Pitino, by comparison, makes $3.9 million in base salary alone.
Speaking of Shockers, don’t you wish you had a dollar for every headline that played off that word in a sports headline?
Shockers shock Gonzaga.
Ohio State is shocked.
You get the idea.
If you didn’t pick the Shockers to make the Final Four, you’re not alone. According to columnist Rick Reilly, only 3.3 percent of those submitting ESPN Tournament Challenge Brackets thought they would make the Sweet 16. A meager 0.24 percent thought they’d make the Final Four.
Lest we forget, Wichita State was picked to finish fourth in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll, before finishing second in the conference and in the conference tournament.
No wonder so many people were shocked.
Sorry. I couldn’t resist.