ACU’s basketball programs made history this season by appearing in both men’s and women’s NCAA Div. I Tournaments, but for the university, March Madness was more than just a prestigious tournament.
Director of athletics Allen Ward said although both teams were knocked out of the tournament in the first round, making it to Jacksonville and Waco is still the talk of campus.
“The interaction of the community and campus about the tournament is still a buzz,” Ward said. “Everywhere I go, people are talking about the last couple of weeks and what it means to the institution and Abilene in general. It’s an amazing feeling that will last for quite some time.”
After both teams clinched a spot in the NCAA Tournament, athletics has received a spike in donations, he said.
Ward said people giving generously will help fund expenses for teams and bring improvements to different aspects of athletics.
“People want to help us, and that is so big,” Ward said. “For us to strategically capitalize on this run and give us a chance, external funding has to help us travel such as being able to fly instead of drive or help us improve facilities. That’s how we take that next step, that’s how we get that player that we covet.”
Ward also said he’s confident that with the success of the men and women’s basketball teams this season, it will help land better recruits for other sports as well.
Aside from athletics, ACU’s name received impressive national viewership during the men’s time in Jacksonville. Looking past head coach Joe Golding’s run in with ESPN’s Twitter and Instagram after admitting he’d coach with ripped pants, university president Phil Schubert said TV ratings for the ACU’s game with Kentucky were high.
The way TV ratings work is the number given represents the percentage of people who watched the program.
“I talked to (ACU alum) Lance Barrow, who’s an executive producer of CBS Sports, and he said our game had a 7.2 rating,” Schubert said. That number is the percentage of people watching television who are tuned into the game.
“He told me that was the highest rating in a first-round game since 2015,” he said. “It also means that the game was watched by 12-15 million people at one point.”
ACU’s taste of the national spotlight brought students and alumni all the way to Jacksonville and Waco.
Schubert said the university and alumni have expressed their pride as Wildcats after seeing both teams complete an incredible journey to the tournament.
“Any time you have opportunities for people to be proud of their community or alma mater, it’s going to cause a lot of talk,” Schubert said. “I’ve had countless texts, emails and phone calls expressing excitement in ACU.”
Being in March Madness also brings more madness in merchandise sales. The Campus Store also felt the effect of the men and women’s success after selling plenty of tournament t-shirts.
Campus Store manager Scott Harsh said the ACU apparel caught more people’s attention this last week.
“We put the tournament t-shirts online after the Southland championship games and we came in that Monday morning to see 50 orders already,” Harsh said. “I saw more foot traffic in the store. We saw a lot of people shopping in apparel.”
Harsh also said before the watch party Thursday, the campus store had already sold about 55 percent of the shirts and are left with 50 total hanging up at the front of the store now.
After a week of being involved with NCAA tournament, the excitement has reach past athletics and well into the Abilene community.
Ward said the team’s accomplishments were not just done for the team.
“What we did these past few weeks was for ACU, not just for athletics,” Ward said. “That’s why we do all this, and to have the opportunity to tell the ACU story is why you get national television exposure. It’s going to impact the university well.”