Fairleigh Dickinson University interim President Michael Avaltroni made it clear who he’ll be rooting for at the Final Four this weekend: Florida Atlantic.
“I figure, if it can’t be us, wouldn’t it be great if it was the team that beat us?” he said.
Truth to be told, FDU has been the big winner of the NCAA Tournament since it stunned No. 1 seed Purdue in the first round nearly two weeks ago.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Avaltroni said. “The latest stats that we saw said there were 8 billion social media imprints — and 9 million eyes were upon us. We became the most pursued or searched NCAA team in the tournament.
“I think we had a 54% increase in followers on social media.”
Those numbers translate in other ways. Last weekend, FDU had an open house at its Florham Park campus. Normally, it would hope 500 perspective students would show. This time, the number was more than double.
And that doesn’t do justice to the energy they brought, Avaltroni said.
“The enthusiasm spread all over campus,” he said. “It was just a different vibe. It was a very robust and vibrant college campus.”
And, remember this: The team that beat Purdue came from the Teaneck/Hackensack campus.
A recent celebration for all the schools’ athletes on that campus drew more than 1,000 people — many of whom were not even students.
“There were community leaders, alums — people from other campuses,” he said. “It’s just been a unifier, the likes of which we have always been looking for, but never have been able to quantify.
“It’s been incredible.”
Avaltroni, the main attraction at a lunch of business and political leaders Tuesday in Short Hills, said that turning that excitement into more students, more donations, more partnerships with the business community is the next step.
Avaltroni is confident all of those victories are coming, too.
“It seems like, everywhere I go, I run into someone who has a connection to FDU,” he said. “And everyone wants to work with us now.
“It’s funny, we went from F-D-Who? to being able to tell our story to everyone — all because of one night of college basketball.”