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Florida Gulf Coast Univ. men’s basketball team is “basking in the national spotlight -- and loving it" as it prepares to play the Univ. of Florida in the NCAA Tournament on Friday, according to Dave Breitenstein of the Ft. Myers NEWS-PRESS. National media including ESPN “set up shop” yesterday on campus. Sunday website counts “showed 177,093 unique visitors for fgcu.edu and 93,730 for fgcuathletics.com, a combined seven times higher than the previous Sunday.” The athletics site at one point on Sunday “crashed when too many people logged on at the same time.” A fully stocked campus bookstore opened at 8:00am ET yesterday, but “entire racks of clothing were cleaned out by closing time.” FGCU’s “rapidly expanding fan base overwhelmed cashiers who stared down lines 60-people deep at one point.” Sales figures from yesterday “won’t be available until today, but the total likely will be in the tens of thousands, if not more.” FGCU Admissions Dir Marc Laviolette said that the tournament run “also will affect admissions.” The admissions office “usually receives 20 online requests for more information each day." Laviolette said that the number "jumped to 200 this weekend.” Laviolette: “This kind of exposure, I couldn’t afford to purchase or spend that kind of money for all of the advertising and marketing that this is getting us” (Ft. Myers NEWS-PRESS, 3/26). The AP’s Tim Reynolds reported phone lines were “jammed by those seeking tickets for this weekend's South Regional,” and even FGCU President Wilson Bradshaw “half-seriously wondered if he would be able to obtain what he needed” (AP, 3/25). In Ft. Lauderdale, Dave Hyde writes FGCU “staggered under the sweet onslaught of attention.” An ESPN crew “gave hourly updates outside the basketball arena.” National radio shows “wanted any player or coach they could get.” FGCU SID Patrick Pierson “sat at his desk after 45 minutes of sleep Sunday night and tried to wade through the hundreds of unanswered texts and emails.” Pierson said, "We aren't capable of handling this. I'm not too proud to say it -- this is too much for us” (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 3/26).
ALREADY A WINNER: FORBES.com’s Chris Smith wrote while FGCU “only just captured America’s attention, they have spent the last few years quietly becoming one of their conference’s most profitable teams.” After “stunning the world twice in the last week,” the school is “about to hop onto quite the financial gravy train.” The Eagles “lost a quarter of a million dollars” in ‘04-05 and “continued losing money” through ‘09-10, when they reported losses of more than $30,000. But the Eagles have “managed to increase their basketball revenue by an average 25% per year over the last five,” and in ‘10-11 the team “crossed into the black.” Last year FGCU’s basketball revenue “broke $1 million for the first time, helping the team generate more than $60,000 in profit, the second-most of any team from the Atlantic Sun” (FORBES.com, 3/25).
LATE-NIGHT LAUGHS: FGCU was a big topic during the late-night talk shows last night, with CBS' David Letterman saying, "Are you all excited about March Madness? ... Every year what they do is try to hope for a Cinderella team, a team that’s underrated or overlooked that comes through, knocks off the big dogs. Well guess what? It’s happening this year. It’s a college called Florida Gulf Coast University. It’s a pretty good school. You either go there to play basketball or you major in oil spills” (“Late Show,” CBS, 3/25). NBC's Jay Leno said, "The biggest Cinderella story of the NCAA Tournament so far, 15th seed Florida Golf Coast University, has made it to the Sweet 16, first team ever to do it. So congratulations to FGCU. That sounds like a nasty text message, doesn’t it? My girlfriend just told me to go FGCU myself" ("The Tonight Show," NBC, 3/25). ABC's Jimmy Kimmel said, "Florida Gulf Coast University beat San Diego State yesterday to become the first 15 seed ever to make the Sweet 16, which was a shock to every basketball expert in the world, other than my cousin Mickey. Despite the fact that Mickey picked FGCU and no one else did, she is currently ranked 69th out of 69 in our office pool" ("Jimmy Kimmel Live," ABC, 3/25).
Univ. of Minnesota men's basketball coach Tubby Smith was fired yesterday after six seasons for "largely failing to deliver" on the hype that came with his hiring, and it is a move AD Norwood Teague said he hoped fans would view “as an investment in the future,” according to a front-page piece by Dennis Brackin of the Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE. But that investment "comes with a hefty price tag." Smith received a three-year extension last July that "netted him a buyout" of $2.5M, and that, "along with the firing of all of Smith’s assistant coaches, and the ensuing hiring of replacements, is likely to cost" at least $6M. Teague put "no timetable on a new hire," but said that he would "not employ a search firm, a sign that the search should move quickly and that Teague is confident in his ability to make a strong hire." Some people wondered "whether the decision made sense, especially financially." UM has been "under scrutiny for its administrative costs, described as out of control by a January Wall Street Journal report." UM has "already paid" more than $4M since '06 to former coaches Dan Monson, Glen Mason and Tim Brewster. There have been "suggestions that private donors would help defray some of the buyout costs, and Teague did not deny that possibility, saying only that the buyout costs would 'be out of athletic department funds,' which include fundraising." He said the athletic budget was “in good shape ... and if we did not feel good about that from our own budget, we would not have been haphazard about a decision like this" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE 3/26). In Minneapolis, Sid Hartman cited sources as saying that basketball gate receipts and corporate support "had gone down the past two years, and that if the university had retained Smith, that revenue would continue to slide" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 3/26).