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Butler still getting big bounce from 2010 NCAA run

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As Butler University men’s basketball team prepared for its fifth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance on Thursday, school officials were still measuring the positive consequences of the Bulldogs’ run to the championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium last April.

Butler dropped the title 2010 game to Duke University, but won legions of fans and an avalanche of favorable publicity.

The most memorable moment for basketball fans may be Gordon Hayward’s end-of-game shot that could have given Butler the win, but school officials said  applicants to the university remember something else.

Butler admission staff members said they heard repeatedly from potential students and their parents during high school visits last fall that their main memory of the Bulldogs’ run was that the school’s basketball players went to class the day of the NCAA championship game.

On Thursday, Butler was scheduled to play Old Dominion University in Washington, D.C. Tip time was set for 12:40 p.m. The Bulldogs, a No. 8 seed, will have a difficult time repeating last year’s tournament success, on or off the court.

In the wake of the 2010 run, men’s basketball season ticket sales increased more than 25 percent over the previous year. Average attendance at each home game during the 2010-11 season was 7,177, the highest in more than 40 years.

The number of applications to Butler has gone up 41 percent—to a total of 9,357—compared with the same time last year, according to school officials. Requests for information and campus visits by prospective students are both up 35 percent for the year.

“That’s a solid indicator of interest,” said Tom Weede, Butler’s vice president for enrollment management.

Applications from outside Indiana have increased 62 percent over last year’s figures. In-state applications rose 18 percent, Weede added.

Though Butler officials declined to discuss specifics about their financials, they said donations to Butler’s athletic programs are up significantly, and the number of undergraduate alumni giving to the school increased 10 percent over a year ago.

In October, two major Homecoming functions—the President’s Dinner and Bulldog Beauty Contest, set attendance records. Overall, alumni events are seeing more new participants.

Weede is not surprised that last spring’s tournament exposure generated more interest among college applicants.

“People knew where Butler was because they saw us in the Final Four,” he said. “No one applies to schools they’ve never heard of.”

That larger applicant pool means more competition to be one of the students Butler will accept to fill 960 freshmen seats in fall 2011, Weede said, adding that the university has extended about 200 more enrollment offers than last year, an increase of 3 percent.

Sports-business experts said the financial bounce of Butler’s success is likely a mid-seven-figure number. But the win didn’t come cheap, either.

A week after the championship game, Butler signed its men’s basketball coach, Brad Stevens, to a lucrative 12-year contract extension that experts valued at $1 million annually—nearly three times what Stevens made during the 2009-10 season.

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