VCU sees opportunity in Final Four trip
On a campus where hundreds have lined up daily to buy Final Four
T-shirts at $21.98 each, VCU film students Caroline Miller and
Tommy Bell were selling glazed doughnuts at $1 a pop while pausing
to reflect on their school’s improbable run.
”I’ve never seen this much school spirit,” said Miller,
standing behind boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, the sticky sweet
attraction of their arts fundraiser. ”On Sunday, you couldn’t even
walk outside without cracking a grin for how proud the school is
Building steam, Miller added, ”I think the school is going to,
like, massively grow – it’s just going to explode.”
Bell has been caught up in the Rams’ run, too, and shares the
widely held view that the basketball team’s inspirational
performance can only benefit the school.
”VCU’s a great school, in my opinion,” said the sophomore from
Knoxville, Tenn. ”If it gets more attention, more people, more
tuition, I don’t think it can hurt.”
From the president’s office to City Hall, Virginia Commonwealth
University’s trip to college basketball’s most exclusive gathering
is viewed as a huge plus for this urban campus of 32,303 students
and the city in which it occupies some prime real estate. It’s a
great opportunity to highlight the school’s academics while
dispelling some myths in the process.
”What’s happening is there’s an enormous level of interest from
all kinds of people in VCU right now,” school President Michael
Rao said Tuesday. ”We’re really on everyone’s screen.”
Rao expects VCU’s first trip to the Final Four, where it plays
Butler for a spot in the championship game, to double the school’s
annual giving to $80 million in a decade, along with bringing in
more research dollars and attracting more students.
He’s also intent on setting the record straight: VCU is not a
commuter school and it is not an open-access school.
”People will say to me – and it makes me crazy – ‘What’s your
average SAT score? Is it up near a thousand yet?’ Well, it’s well
over a thousand,” Rao said.
For the record, it’s just under 1,100.
”It’s not a commuter school anymore,” Rao said. ”We can’t
build housing fast enough.”
VCU dates its origins to 1838, when it was the medical
department of Hampden-Sydney College, and became Virginia
Commonwealth University in 1968. It now occupies vast expanses of
Richmond at the tip of The Fan, a residential district of stately
homes and trendy restaurants.
The campus is a mix of brownstones fitting of Boston’s Back Bay
and high-rise student housing that could pass for Moscow apartment
buildings – all concrete and metal. The campus also includes the
52.4-acre VCU Medical Center across downtown.
The optimism inspired by the team’s trip to Houston is
reminiscent of another Virginia school and its 2006 appearance in
the Final Four: George Mason. The two are rivals on the court in
the Colonial Athletic Association, and jockey annually for the
claim as the school with the largest enrollment in the state.
”It was an exhilarating time,” George Mason spokesman Daniel
Walsch recalled. ”It was not like anything we’ve experienced
A study conducted by the school concluded the Final Four
appearance resulted in immediate gains. Admissions inquiries
increased by 350 percent, alumni became more active and fundraising
continues to climb. The study estimated the value of free media
exposure at $677 million.
”Student demand has certainly increased dramatically” Walsch
said, ”to the point where we’re bursting at the seams.”
At VCU, the bookstore has been a visible barometer of the
school’s popularity as the Rams upset their way to the Final Four,
with a stunning victory over top-seeded Kansas last Sunday the
biggest of all. About 600 people lined up after that win for the
latest shipment of clothing and memorabilia celebrating the team’s
Amy Randolph, the store general manager, hasn’t been able to
keep apace of demand as lines have snaked around the building, just
down the busy thoroughfare where the Rams play.
”So many have come down on their lunch break,” Randolph said.
”I’ve heard so many people say I’m not even a basketball fan but I
had to get a Final Four shirt.”
Bob Dickerson, a 1990 VCU grad, was sizing up a yellow golf
shirt with the VCU logo. He was looking for something to wear to
work Friday at Virginia Dominion Power. Its downtown high-rise
saluted the team in lights Monday with the words: ”VCU GO
”It’s incredible, just incredible,” he said. ”I don’t think
even Kentucky can stop them.”
Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones, who came from Philadelphia to
attend Virginia Union University, said the Rams’ success can only
be good for his city of approximately 200,000. It was also rooting
for the University of Richmond, which made it to the round of
”We’re riding the wave and we’re really excited about the
national attention,” Jones said. ”People need to know that
Richmond is a city on the rise, that we’re up and coming.
Thirty-three-thousand students can’t be wrong.”
Jones said he planned on attending the Final Four.
”How can you be the mayor of Hoopstown and not go to Houston?”