The NCAA men’s basketball Final Four is one day away, and fans of the last four schools standing are buzzing with high hopes of glory. As everyone knows, college sports fandom extends from the campus and stadium to far-flung sports bars and couches and even, yes, to boardrooms.
Corporate America is full of diehard Division-I alumni who follow their team religiously when they make it this far. So we asked some of them about it. We reached out to CEOs, other top execs, and big names in media to ask why their school will go all the way this year. Here’s what we got.SyracuseSyracuse alums were the most responsive of the four schools, by far. Chalk that up to the East Coast location, or to the fact that it produces so many media folks. But it also matches data shared with Yahoo Finance exclusively on Thursday by Fanatics, the No. 1 retailer of college apparel: Syracuse merchandise has dominated sales in the last week. Either ‘Cuse fans have been re-stocking their wardrobe for a stressful game, or it’s a bandwagon effect. Either way, alumni have certainly contributed somewhat to the 750% Syracuse bump in fan gear sales.Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley (his many Twitter and Instagram followers know him better as @dens) is such a vocal fan that one of the Foursquare conference rooms has a Syracuse banner hanging in it year-round. “I pick Syracuse to win it every year in the bracket,” Crowley said to Yahoo Finance. “We’re killing it—both the women and men in the Final Four. On Friday, I bet we’ll see 10 people wearing ‘Cuse gear around the office.” Crowley graduated from the school in 1998. He sent us the below photo from the office on Friday morning. View gallery.Syracuse alums at FoursquareIf you ask Ron O’Hanley, CEO of State Street Global Advisors and a 1980 graduate of Syracuse, “The underdog suit fits this team well and really shines in Syracuse orange.” O’Hanley, a former Fidelity exec and the CEO of BNY Mellon Asset Management before that, told us that on Monday night, “Boeheim and company will be dancing in Houston!”Media personalities who went to Syracuse are equally bullish. Fox News host Megyn Kelly, who graduated in 1992, told us, “As a Syracuse alum married to a Dukie, the most important thing here is that Blue Devils are out. Orange is the new blue!” Over at CBS News, Steve Kroft, a 1967 graduate, is similarly pleased that the team even made it this far. “You know what they say about having low expectations: you are never disappointed,” he said to us. “I kept thinking all through this disappointing season that at some point they might finally catch a break or two. Wow, did they ever.”VillanovaVillanova isn’t playing Syracuse (at least not yet), but both teams being in the Final Four has created a rivalry of vice-presidential proportions: Vice President Joe Biden is a Syracuse alum, while Dr. Jill Biden is a Villanova alum.What. A. Comeback. So proud of my Orange for becoming the first 10-seed to make the Final Four. #OnToHouston— Vice President Biden (@VP) March 28, 2016Both Bidens will be in attendance at the Final Four in Houston, to promote their It’s On Us campaign about preventing sexual assault on college campuses. “Joe and I are passionate about our college basketball teams — let’s go Cats!” Dr. Biden said to SB Nation. “But, if all of us direct that energy toward encouraging more fans to take the It’s On Us pledge, everybody wins.”Meanwhile at Facebook, VP of global marketing Carolyn Everson is preparing to take her entire family to Houston for the game. “It was one of those #lifeisshortcreatememories (my family mantra) moments,” the 1993 graduate told Yahoo Finance. “I could not be more psyched for the Wildcats in the Final Four. We haven’t won since 1985, which is before I went to Villanova, but I think this is our year and I wouldn’t miss it!”On the Villanova campus, professors are so excited about the tournament run that some have promised to cancel class on Tuesday if the team wins it all. That intel comes from senior Brett Klein, a writer for The Villanovan. “There’s been a noticeable uptick in Villanova apparel on campus,” he reports,” and you basically can’t have a conversation with someone without one of you asking if the other person is going to Houston. For a school that has experienced so many early tournament exits over the past several years, most people are very optimistic.”OklahomaAs you’d guess, the oil and gas industry teems with Oklahoma alums. Among them is Archie Dunham, former CEO of Conoco and former non-executive chairman of Chesapeake Energy, who graduated from the school in 1960. James Abrahamson, a decorated U.S. Air Force general and former chairman of the board of Oracle, graduated one year later.But possibly the most famous Oklahoma alum in the business world is Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T. When we reached out to AT&T for a comment from the Sooner fan exec, we were surprised not to get one. Then again, the person who responded, VP of global media relations Fletcher Cook, is an Oregon alum—considering Oklahoma beat Oregon to get to the Final Four, maybe the request didn’t go through at first? On Friday afternoon, Stephenson did send us this punny comment: “OU will be the first team to win a national championship using the Buddy (Hield) system. Boomer Sooner!”UNCFormer Citigroup CFO Sallie Krawcheck, now founder and CEO of Ellevest, is such a big UNC fan that during the tournament, her stomach hurts before every game. “And after a game, I can’t sleep for hours,” she said to Yahoo Finance. “Oh, and I haven’t washed my lucky shirt in weeks. This has been a hugely fun year. I don’t know that we’ve had a player as fun to watch as Brice Johnson, ever. These seem to be really good kids.” View gallery.Sallie Krawcheck at a recent UNC gameThe Wall Street veteran, who graduated in 1987, is certainly a diehard fan—just look at her Instagram account for proof. In one recent photo, she is standing up and screaming while every other fan around her is seated. “Just helping Roy Williams out with a little extra coaching,” she joked.Former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar responded to our email with a big “GDTBATH!” (The acronym means, Great Day To Be A Tar Heel.) Kilar, who is now CEO of video subscription service Vessel and a board member at DreamWorks, graduated in 1993. “Epic season for the boys in Carolina blue,” he said, adding this dig: “I’m excited for the Duke fan base to have the extra time this weekend to watch the figure skating world championships on NBC.”Perhaps no one we spoke to for this roundup can claim as close a tie to their school as Erskine Bowles. The former Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton served as president of UNC from 2005 to 2010. “For two hours on Saturday and Monday,” he told us, boldly predicting a Final Four win, “every fiber of my being will be focused on my Tar Heels. Man, I do love this time of year. It doesn’t get any better than March Madness.” –Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology.Read more of Yahoo Finance’s March Madness coverage:Syracuse is crushing UNC, Villanova, and Oklahoma in Final Four merchandise salesIs your March Madness office pool legal?Warren Buffett tells us why he’s going big on March Madness this yearWhat March Madness can teach us about businessDoes the NCAA make its money from indentured servants?Sports & Recreation