To declare that March Madness—the NCAA Division 1 basketball tournament—is popular would be a colossal understatement. For advertisers, only the NFL playoffs is considered more valuable, and the NCAA’s current TV rights agreement is valued at a reported $10.8 billion over 14 years.
For the 68 teams that qualify for the men’s tournament, it’s a stage of epic proportions. Take last year. The national title game between Louisville and Michigan averaged 23.4 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. That capped off tournament games that averaged 10.7 million viewers. Most experts predict that those viewership numbers will be eclipsed when the 2014 tournament ratings are finalized.
Over the years, some of the teams represent schools surprisingly not that different in undergraduate class size than Carnegie Mellon. Among them: Notre Dame (8,475); Georgetown (7,552); Villanova (7,100); Duke (6,655); Gonzaga (4,906); Creighton (4,302); By comparison, Carnegie Mellon has 6,279 undergraduates. (Do you see where this is going?!)
Recently, while I was discussing with a few of my coworkers my bracket prediction for the 2014 tournament, one of them had a “great idea!”
“What if,” he asked, “CMU became a Division 1 basketball powerhouse? All we need is a basketball, a really good coach, and a few superstar players. Imagine what it would do for getting our name out there. We could never buy that kind of publicity!”
He forgot one not-so-minor component. “Where would the Tartans play games that could hold 15,000 fans, like other D1 arenas?” I asked. “I don’t see us spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a basketball arena.”
He paused for a moment and then asked, “Where does Georgetown play its men’s games? I don’t think they have an arena.” After a quick Web search, we found that the Hoyas play their home games at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C., which is about 3.5 miles from their campus. By coincidence, similarly-sized Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh is also 3.5 miles from CMU’s campus. Hmmm.
I must admit this idea personifies the cliché: out-of-the-box thinking. It’s true that if CMU put together a tournament-worthy D1 team, the university’s name, at least every March, would be broadcast around the world. And, with that name recognition would come a platform for extolling the ongoing accomplishments of the university’s alumni, faculty, and students—the kind that are chronicled in each issue of Carnegie Mellon Today.
For example, here is what’s in this issue:
• University-wide Simon Initiative that will help transform how the world uses technology to enhance learning (“The Simon Initiative: Learn”);
• CMU students at the forefront of preventing gift card fraud (“In the Cards”);
• Rhodes Scholar alumna Courtney Wittekind and her plan to better the daily lives of refugees (“Oxford Bound”).
Carnegie Mellon certainly has stories that transcend the sports page.
Not one to be a naysayer, I half-jokingly, half-seriously suggested to my coworker that he submit his idea to President Subra Suresh’s Listening Tour. He said he would. So, if during March, a few calendar years from now, the Tartans are part of the madness, you’ll know where it all started. Or, perhaps, that’s just an April Fool’s prognostication.
Follow on Twitter @RobertMendelson