What’s It Like to Be Cinderella in March? These Schools Know.

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As administrators at universities like St. Peter’s, Fairleigh Dickinson and Florida Gulf Coast can attest, upset victories bring attention, alumni donations and a lot of work.

When Oakland University’s 14th-seeded men’s basketball team defeated No. 3 Kentucky on Thursday night, delivering the first shocking upset of this year’s N.C.A.A. tournament, it cast a spotlight on the relatively anonymous university based in Rochester, Mich.

And if history is any indication, the next few days and weeks — and perhaps longer — promise to be a lucrative time for the school.

Upset victories by double-digit seeds are not just a big deal for busted tournament brackets. They also raise the profile of the schools who pull off the shockers. Big wins routinely lead to spikes in applications, enrollment and, as the university community rallies around its team, alumni contributions. Media coverage leads to attention that is otherwise hard to come by, and the name recognition can be long lasting.

“It was a bit surrealistic,” said Eugene Cornacchia, the president of St. Peter’s, whose men’s basketball team also upset Kentucky in 2022. “It was exciting to win, but I didn’t necessarily understand the onslaught of the attention that would ramp up so quickly.”

After the victory, Cornacchia said his phone was ablaze with text messages from friends, alumni and members of the media. His school, a Jesuit university based in Jersey City, N.J., with an enrollment of around 3,000 students and an endowment of less than $40 million, had previously been to three tournaments and won zero games.

The team went on to win its next two games, before falling in the regional final to North Carolina.

The tournament run was good for business. In the eight months before the win by St. Peter’s over Kentucky, the university sold roughly $58,000 worth of merchandise, Cornacchia said. After the upset and through the end of that month, it sold more than $300,000 worth of merchandise and ran out of its supply in a matter of days. Yearly commitments from donors rose from $450,000 to more than $2 million.

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