Making women's gymnastics a March Madness phenomenon

March Madness is off and running, but one of the nation's most popular collegiate programs doesn't involve basketball or football. At the University of Utah, gymnastics is drawing record crowds, reports CBS News' Omar Villafranca.

At a sold-out meet, crowds at the university's Huntsman Center have come for the flips, twists and dismounts of the nationally ranked women's gymnastics team.

"Meets here are, you know, the gymnastics meets Super Bowl," team-member Corrie Lothrop said.

Meet the leotard designer and head coach at Utah gymnastics

Utah Gymnastics has the highest average attendance in women's college sports almost every year, attracting more fans than the powerhouse women's basketball programs at Tennessee and Connecticut, even outdrawing the WNBA.

Head coach Greg Marsden said financially, they break even.

"It's really good for a women's sport," Marsden said.

He started building the program 40 years ago. As a grad student, the former collegiate diver was offered a salary of just $1,500 to start a gymnastics team. But first, he needed to recruit athletes.

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February 6, 2015; Utah gymnastics vs Arizona State Russ Isabella

"We put an ad in the student newspaper and wound up with about eight people on the team that first year. I don't know how we did it but we qualified for championships and finished tenth," Marsden said.

He said it took them six years to win their first national championship.

The national titles kept coming, but Marsden was frustrated to see that crowds didn't follow.

"I sat back and I tried to look at the sports that were popular at that time, that had large attendance; football, men's basketball, and I tried to look for common threads among those," Marsden said.

One common thread was non-stop action.

"So we tried to create that -- an event that was very good at entertaining," he said.

The plan worked and fans soon packed the arena. Today, Utah's home gymnastics meets are a fast-paced, energetic show. The gymnasts are introduced like rock stars complete with loud music and fireworks.

The marching band is loud, the cheerleaders are spirited and the student section is rowdy.

Because of Marsden, there's never a dull moment on the floor -- and because of the "Simba cam," there aren't any overhead, either.

"Everybody holds up their babies and they're on the jumbotron," Marsden said.

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Megan Marsden Russ Isabella

Season ticket holder Scott Monson said it's a show.

"It doesn't drag. It's boom, boom, boom -- performance, performance, performance. Everybody has a great time," he said.

The sell-out crowds have become part of the program's recipe for success, serving as a recruiting tool for Marsden and his coaching staff, which includes his wife Megan, herself a former national champion at Utah.

"When you land a dismount after a really good routine, it is the most unique experience to have happen when you lay your head back and the crowd goes crazy," Megan said.

Team-member Georgia Dabritz knows that feeling.

"I came here and I fell in love with it because there was such a great atmosphere," Dabritz said.

It's that atmosphere that Marsden is now hoping to convince others to replicate, starting with the NCAA championships.

"I know we can do with our championship what I've done here, you know, at the University of Utah with our crowds," he said.

He has no doubts he could turn the event into its own March Madness.

And if anyone doubts coach Marsden's madness, you won't find them in this crowd.