The Collegian
Monday, October 26, 2020

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Sweet 16 tournament puts a spotlight on campus admissions

If web traffic is an accurate measure of the nation's interest in the University of Richmond, making it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament is the most interesting thing Richmond has done in years.

On March 19, the day the Spiders defeated Morehead State University to advance to the Sweet 16, 12,400 people from outside Richmond's network visited Richmond's website, according to Phillip Gravely, Richmond's web strategies director. That is an increase of 150 percent compared to an average Saturday.

The spike in web traffic -- 40 percent above average throughout the tournament -- is one of the biggest and most sustained the university has experienced, Gravely said.

Perhaps most significantly, the number of visits to Richmond's undergraduate admissions website doubled, he said.

Although the university's 2011 application deadline passed months ago, Dean of Admission Gil Villanueva said he hoped the national exposure would boost the school's yield on accepted students.

"There's not a lot of research that says that it will have long-term effects," he said. "But there's a little voice inside me, and I'm hoping that all of this attention nationally will help convince students and families to think a little bit more about Richmond."

As for next year, Villanueva said only time would tell whether the exposure would generate more applications. He pointed out data that showed triple-digit percentage increases in website hits from states like California (up 238 percent) and Texas (up 413 percent), where the university is working to gain footholds.

"Could you imagine how many millions of dollars the university would have spent to have this kind of marketing?" he said.

Assistant athletic director Bob Black said that this type of publicity couldn't be bought.

"The national outlets provide an unbelievable stage to promote the University of Richmond," he said.

With all the buzz surrounding the Sweet 16, the university has been talked about in the New York Times, Sports Illustrated and on ESPN, among others.

The only recent event that compared in terms of drawing visitors to Richmond's website was when the Princeton Review rankings came out in February, Gravely said, but the spike in traffic due to the NCAA tournament lasted longer.

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The coverage surrounding the NCAA tournament put Richmond in a flattering light, Villanueva said, showing the combination of academics and fun that the school offers.

Major television networks mentioned that Richmond's basketball players brought homework with them to the tournament and that they didn't get special treatment like athletes at other Division 1 schools, Villanueva said.

"That tells you that this is an academic place," he said. "Academics is certainly at the core of what we're trying to do here, but that said, having this kind of success and fanfare hopefully talks a little bit about that spirit and fun that happens here, too."

Black said he was proud of how the team represented Richmond on the road.

"They are extremely well-spoken, outgoing guys," Black said. "They are shining lights, there's no question about that."

Contact reporter \0x2009Ali Eaves at rali .eaves@richmond.edu.

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