EVANSVILLE, Ind. - Roughly 200 West Liberty fans have watched their team compete this week at the NCAA Division II men's basketball tournament.
That number pales in comparison to what school officials are expecting at 3 p.m. today when the Hilltoppers battle Central Missouri for the national championship at the state-of-the-art Ford Center.
"We were able to raise about $7,000 and have three buses filled with a waiting list for a fourth," West Liberty President Robin Capehart said Friday. "That's the nice thing about being at West Liberty, is that it really is a community atmosphere. I know a lot of these players personally because it is a small school that is very tight-knit. We're looking forward to a lot of those fans turning out."
Photo by Matt Watson
Keene Cockburn makes a drive during West Liberty’s Final Four game against USC-Aiken on Friday in Evansville, Ind.
Capehart said the week-long attention the school has received is invaluable in terms of getting the word out to not only prospective recruits, but maybe even more so for potential students.
"You can only imagine how much this exposure is worth in terms of advertising, if we would have to pay for it," he said. "It gives the nation an opportunity to find out about West Liberty University and to see what it is all about."
Capehart said the school is receiving well-wishes from all corners these days, including from his West Virginia University counterpart, E. Gordon Gee.
"I think this is great for West Liberty, for Coach (Jim) Crutchfield and great for our fans," Capehart said. "But it's also great for our region, the Ohio Valley, and for all of West Virginia. You have rivalries throughout the state and even in our own community, but it seems like when it gets to the point where West Virginia is in the spotlight, West Virginians have the tendency to gather around and support their team."
The whole country will get its first glimpse of West Liberty today. More than 3 million viewers are expected to tune into the game, which will be broadcast live on CBS.
"I think just being able to get our name out there is a great asset. You're going to find that as our name spreads around it is going to have a very positive impact," Capehart said. "Obviously it's a great honor for West Liberty University to be here and it's a great achievement for Coach Crutchfield and his staff and the team."