Jul 04, 2020
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Aiming for the future

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Photo Illustration by Joseph Vasquez and Juan Villa / The Collegian

FOOTBALL PROGRAMS GET a lot of flack, and Bulldog football is no exception.

Critics argue that most athletic departments spend a disproportionate percentage of its budget on football.

Even worse, with the possible exception of nationally-recognized merchandising powerhouses, athletic departments lose money unless their teams go to bowl games. When the team does go to a bowl game, the proceeds carry the department into the black.

A collegiate athletic department deficit — if any — is usually due to football spending.

This is true.

Some armchair critics even go a step farther, arguing that the money spent on sports in general — football particularly — would be better spent on academics.

That is not true.

Football programs exist to aid the university in exposure, to make it a household name.

Without exposure, without headlines, a school can’t be a name school, a school with prestige. Without some amount of prestige, there’s no impressing the best and brightest from both locally and elsewhere to flock to the university.

In case you hadn’t figured that out, getting the best and brightest to come around is pretty bloody important for a university.

Bright students are the ones who grow up to be smart businessmen and entrepreneurs. They’re the alumni who, late in life, decide to give the university multi-million dollar endowments and name a building after themselves.

You know, for fun. They’re rich like that.

Even the best and brightest who aren’t interested in football are still interested in a school with a name — the quickest way to a name is through exposure.

The most cost-effective way to get exposure? Headlines.

As you’ve probably figured, there’s one cost-effective way to get headlines not dependent on our faculty’s hypothetical and sudden turn to brilliance — a cure for cancer, proof of the missing link — and it’s the tried and true way: a football team.

Fresno State’s athletic department has many critics and arguably even more faults, but no critic says that Fresno State football hasn’t had its share of headlines.

Whether the Sept. 2001 Sports Illustrated cover story or the even just the program’s landmark sharp decline last season – Fresno State makes headlines.

With football, unlike our Title IX scandals, good and bad exposure are more or less the same.

College football teams get better, and then they get worse. Then they get better again.

People understand this, and so when a bad year rolls around, fans bide their time and future students are attracted by our legacy.

San Jose State — our supposed rival of however many years — is a case in point. They’ve been a joke long enough that any success is a headline-making miracle. And now the team seems to be coming back from its obsolescence, making way for even more headlines along the way.

Each dollar spent on a football program is an investment for the good of the university. Every last cent they spend is all meant to promote Fresno State’s good name.

What doesn’t help is that we’re not the most prestigious college. The one real claim to fame you hear broadcast all over the place is that we have the only on-campus commercial winery in the country. I guess that’s cool for all you enology majors out there.

Not really a big draw for the rest of us.

What Fresno State has is a football team. Despite all Fresno State’s pretension towards academic prestige and President John D. Welty’s emphasis on volunteerism, whatever that is, we need the football team to get into the national spotlight.

When Fresno State scheduled a game with USC, the gall of it all made headlines. When Fresno State did well enough that it looked like they’d give USC a hard time of it, the team made headlines.

Weeks before that game, whole full-page spreads were devoted to what seemed to either the game or the massacre of the season on both teams’ schedules.

The game hit, and for what must have seemed like several minutes in the fourth quarter, Fresno State was winning. Fresno State made headlines.

The game was an instant classic on ESPN, though USC won the game — barely. Personally, I think we lost to Paul Pinegar and future dropout Reggie Bush.

Did we lose?

Bush made his successful Heisman bid on the Fresno State game. Every time someone mentions his career, there will be an emphasis on that game.

The Bulldogs scored more points in the Coliseum than any opposing team in recent memory. Headlines, and exposure.

Think of the possibilities with a single television contract.

With that broadcast, how many people saw the albeit low-budget Fresno commercial that touted the on-campus commercial winery? Exposure.

How many people were impressed by our how well our non-BCS team did against the former national champion, better than most PAC-10 rivals that season? Headlines.

Despite the bowl loss to a team with a giant Frosty for a mascot — more headlines — that season was a good investment.

Last season was perhaps not as much of a good investment. Then again, having the worst record in a decade still makes headlines.

The football team exists for those headlines and exposure, good or bad.

In that, Bulldog football has rarely disappointed.

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