Florida Gulf Coast University is the first 15th seed to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. (Google Images)

Florida Gulf Coast University is the first 15th seed to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. (Google Images)

Last week, Florida Gulf Coast made NCAA men’s basketball history by becoming the first 15th seed to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. Perhaps you were already familiar with Florida Gulf Coast University. But probably not. The university has only existed since 1997.

Dr. James Brock has been teaching 20th Century British and American Literature at FGCU since a year after they opened the doors. He joined Bill Littlefield to talk about how the school is reacting to its improbable March Madness run.

BL: Have the students, faculty, cafeteria workers, lifeguards. and everybody else at Florida Gulf Coast been walking around with painted faces and basketball-inspired smiles?

JB: Oh, absolutely. From Monday on, we’ve see people laughing, everyone’s wearing FGCU gear. FGCU is a bright, sunny, happy place anyway – it can’t be anything but that because of the weather – but it’s been a great week of validation for all of us. So, it’s been a very happy time.

BL: Do you think the perception of the university outside the campus has also changed, now that everybody following the tournament – that is to say, many millions of people, all of them with busted brackets – knows that there is such a place as Florida Gulf Coast University?

JB: On my Facebook, with status updates, I’m continually reminded of all of that, and it’s something that kind of cuts two different ways. On one hand, you’re not interviewing me about my newest play being produced, you’re not talking about my colleagues’ great accomplishments at the National Institutes of Health, but [rather] our basketball team. And it’s going to be a transformative thing for my university.

BL: You taught at several other colleges and universities before joining the faculty at Florida Gulf Coast in 1998, and I understand that at one of those schools, you learned something about what it’s like to be on a campus that was home to a pretty good men’s basketball team.

JB: Exactly so. I’m an alumni of Indiana University, and when I was a graduate student there in 1987, we won the national men’s championship in basketball with Bob Knight. And what was different about it was, IU had a great tradition, great basketball coach, we were expected to at least get to the Final Four. At FGCU, this has just come so far out of the blue. To have a team that has done so well in the tournament has just been something really amazing. And this goes, hopefully, to the coach – he’s only making almost twice as much as what an English professor is making. At the University of Florida, that basketball coach is making about 30 times more than I am making, so it is a different kind of culture here. There’s something kind of pure and uncomplicated about it that we’re also celebrating.

BL: Are you worried at all that that culture will change?

JB: Not really. I mean, it’s still going to be, I think, a place that the academic programs are secure, are well-supported, and that the basketball team is now just part – a very visible part – of who and what we are. I’m sure this is going to enhance our applications, especially from outside of the area. I think that when people look further into the school, there are some really good things going on here, beyond the basketball team and beyond the beaches.