George Mason University has a knack for forward thinking.

It established the first engineering school in the country that focuses on information technology in order to meet the need of an emerging high-tech economy.

It was the first university in the country to offer doctoral programs for majors such as conflict resolution, bioinformatics and information technology.

Over the last five years, Mason has added more than 30 graduate and undergraduate degree programs.
“I was driving around campus and everything just looks new to me,” said Lamar Butler, starting guard for the 2006 Final Four team. “This place has changed a lot in five years.”

Butler was a vital part of the Cinderella story that took place in the 2006 NCAA Tournament.
Since then, the university has undergone a magnificent facelift.

More than $450 million has been poured into three Mason campuses, with a number of new buildings and residence halls being constructed over a span of just five years.

Mason is the largest university in Virginia; It is home to more than 32,000 students and hosts over 200 clubs and organizations.

Much of this growth is unarguably, though indirectly, due to the success of the athletic department.
Intercollegiate sports, however, have failed to make money for the university. In fact, less than two dozen schools out of more than 1,000 member universities generate more money than they spend.
Mason is no different.

Only a handful of Mason sports bring in revenue. And a vast majority of that revenue goes to pay for outstanding expenses credited to the remaining programs that do not bring in profit.

“Intercollegiate at any university, especially at George Mason University, has a role,” Tom O’Connor, athletic director for Mason, said. “And it is an interesting role that is beyond economics.”

The role of intercollegiate sports extends far beyond any tangible monetary value.

“If it was a strictly business decision, there would be two sports,” said Tom Yeager, commissioner of the Colonial Athletic Association since its inception 26 years ago.

Intercollegiate sports are present at a university to promote a sense of belonging within a campus community, as witnessed by the recent Mason Madness event. They are present in order to give the university a recognizable name and allow people to formulate opinions on campus life from their living rooms.

“We always say that athletics is the front porch of the university,” said Adam Brick, associate director of athletics and external relations. “It is what most people see. And it’s what draws people onto campus. So it’s an opportunity to brand the university.”

Mason athletics — especially the basketball programs — have done an exceptional job of branding the university.