By Trevor Cadigan
The SMU basketball team’s recent success may change the makeup of the campus, vaunt other athletic teams to prominence and increase SMU’s overall national recognition, officials said.
The SMU men’s basketball team’s overall record of 27-10 includes an impressive 18-1 record at home. Although some feel the team may have been “snubbed” out of the NCAA March Madness Tournament, SMU finished second in the National Invitation Tournament. The team returned to the Associated Press poll this season for the first time since 1985, and was ranked No. 25 to close out the regular season.
WFAA sports anchor Dale Hansen thinks the recent exposure could increase awareness of SMU along with the desire to attend.
“At the very least it could only be a good thing if kids start looking at it and go ‘Really? SMU?’ then start to learn about SMU and realize, it really is a very good university and ‘Oh by the way…we have a heck of a basketball team that puts on quite a show,’” Hansen said.
SMU Admissions Dean Wes Waggoner said admissions counselors who travel around the nation “are certainly seeing students who recognize SMU.” He called exposure from the basketball team “millions of dollars of advertising we don’t have to pay for.”
Other schools have reported similar bumps in interest based on athletics.
After TCU’s football team won the Rose Bowl in 2010, the number of applicants in 2011 skyrocketed to 19,000 from 2010’s 15,000, according to reports from the university.
The attention that may be brought to SMU could influence the number of applicants, however, SMU admissions officials said the size of the student body at SMU is less important than the character of its students.
“If you don’t have the substance behind the publicity, then it’s not going to affect the quality of the institution,” Waggoner said. “It’s certainly nice to have a winning sports team. …It’s not just winning [though,] it’s the culture of spirit and the culture of camaraderie and pride around a university that cultivate that interest.”
The exposure SMU is receiving may increase interest to attend among high school students as well as student-athletes, Hansen said.
“I think the recruiting, certainly for basketball, will become easier and easier, but I don’t know if it has a trickle-down affect,” Hansen said. “Will the football team become better now that the basketball team is really good? I hope so, but I don’t know that.”
Interest in SMU and its athletics has changed a great deal since the decision made by the NCAA, regarding SMU’s football team, known as the “death penalty,” said Hansen. “I think the pendulum swung too far for a long time and I’m not even sure it’s swung completely back to the middle yet.”
Students have not been this actively involved in an SMU athletic team since the late ’80s, says SMU Student Body President Ramon Trespalacios.
Trespalacios is part of the fan organization “The Mob,” and is extremely involved in the following of SMU men’s basketball.
“The following of a sport hasn’t been this big in a long time,” Trespalacios said. “It’s changing the whole culture surrounding athletics at SMU.”
The recent buzz around SMU’s men’s basketball team is not only present around the campus, but also around the city of Dallas.
“Now we actually have to figure out our coverage based on, ‘Well, wait a minute, SMU is playing on Thursday night. We’ve got to get that on the air.’ … That hasn’t been an option for about 20 years,” Hansen said.
The recent success of men’s basketball is enough to get any SMU fan excited, however, a dominant program is not built overnight, he said.
“I think the only way to get the real national buzz is to have success, No. 1, and success for a long time, No. 2,” Hansen said.