NEW YORK: As George Mason University builds a new dormitory, it is using its place in the sun as an NCAA finalist to renovate its reputation from that of a "commuter school."
In the wake of a frenetic four days of the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, so called "March Madness", George Mason found itself as an unlikely participant in the Sweet 16.
Maureen Nasser, director of athletic communications for GMU, said her cell phone started ringing ten minutes after the team beat North Carolina in the second round. GMU won its first-ever NCAA tournament game against Michigan State in the first round.
The GMU staff is using media interest in its basketball prowess to generate more respect for its academics and physical plant. It has also distributed a national news release with a fact sheet about the university.
"It was important to us that we correct the reporters who called us a 'commuter' school," said Christine LaPaille, VP of university relations. "We've had to call reporters and say, take another look at who we are."
The admissions department also sent out news bulletins to all of the people who have applied to the school.
Nasser said that George Mason President Alan Merten has already leveraged this exposure, pointing out to reporters that the school has two Nobel Prize winners on faculty.
"My staff and the media relation teams are cranking because when the spotlight shines on the basketball team, there is a tremendous opportunity to make sure it shines on everything," LaPaille said.
LaPaille, who joined GMU nine months ago to overhaul its PR department, said she didn't expect the spotlight to come this fast. But is has provided the university with an invaluable time-saver in dealing with the media.
Wichita State and Bradley are the other two unheralded teams that have a surprise slot in the Sweet 16. While some of the teams may be eliminated by the end of the week, the communications staffs at the university are working overtime to make sure that the ancillary coverage continues to build momentum.
Joe Kleinsasser, Wichita State director of news and media relations, said, via e-mail, that the university has seen a sizable increase in media requests and Web site traffic after their first successful weekend. WSU, interestingly enough, will play George Mason in the Sweet 16.
With March Madness fever requiring constant saturation, the media is covering every angle. Kleinsasser said he received a call from the Houston Chronicle about a story it is doing on the various schools' pep bands. Keinsasser also said it has experienced a 10% increase in new visitors to its Web site.