Thursday, November 17, 2005

What is Tech's Rightful Place in the World?

Georgia Tech football often struggles to make its presence felt in the Atlanta market because there are so many more fans of Georgia (and probably a number of other Southern schools) in the area and media attention typically reflects simple market factors. (This fact has caused me to come to grips with the fact that Notre Dame will get showered with attention every time they are semi-competent and that we're two weeks away from Charlie Weis' chef being on the cover of Cooking Light.) Georgia Tech AD Dave Braine remedied the lack of attention problem this week by making the startlingly candid observation that "Georgia Tech can win nine or 10 games [in a season,] but they will never do it consistently. That's my belief." You would have thought that he announced that all future Duke-Georgia Tech basketball games will be played in Durham and will be officiated by Dick Vitale, Alaa Abdelnaby, and Steve Wojosdbgfbgfj,h's mom. Tech fans have exploded on the air waves, complaining about low standards and excusing mediocrity. Do they have a point? Well, as a good leftist, I have to say that it's all shades of gray:

On the one hand, the argument by Tech fans that they are more historically successful than Georgia and should aspire to the same or greater standards is foolish. All those championships won way back when matter about as much as Army's do. And yes, Tech has won a national title more recently than Georgia, but let's be honest about that 1990 team. Florida State was not in the ACC yet, Georgia was extremely mediocre that year, and Tech lucked into playing Nebraska in the Citrus Bowl, a Nebraska team that was in the middle of a lengthy bowl-victory drought and was coming off of a 45-10 loss to a Gary Gibbs-coached Oklahoma team. (And what about the idea of crowning a national champion in the Citrus Bowl? Or a national champion's big win being over Virginia?) 1990 was a bizarro year in which all of the major powers knocked one another off and a team that played a minimum number of good opponents could sneak through the back door. Playoff advocates should use that year, along with 1984, in every argument they make to show that simply giving the title to an unbeaten team isn't always the right idea.

Tech has limitations as a program, as their fans no doubt know. Their academic standards for athletes are rigorous in comparison to many of the schools against which they compete, although Braine drastically overstates that case when he says that only Army and Notre Dame have it tougher. Their fan support isn't outstanding, which forces Tech to play tough out-of-conference opponents because they can't sell out when they don't get some help from the opponent. More importantly, to your average horny 17-year old trying to decide where to go to college, the fact that the place isn't exactly crawling with women doesn't help. (On the other hand, you're in the middle of Atlanta, which is about the best place in America if you're young, Black, and single. Take it from a guy who's 30, Jewish, and married.) Finally, Tech has to compete for recruits with Georgia, Clemson, Tennessee, Auburn, South Carolina, all of which are within a three-hour drive of Atlanta. And when they recruit south Georgia, Tallahassee is a stone's throw away. Tech sits in a talent-rich region, but it isn't as if they can get all of the players that Georgia doesn't get and have a good program.

Given all of that, Braine's statement was probably correct, although it was politically stupid to say because he isn't going to change anyone's mind and, in the process, managed to demoralize the fan base whose wallets make his program function. More importantly, he almost certainly gave Gailey an extension for recruiting purposes, but by making the statement that Tech can't consistently win big, he's taken two steps back in that arena because every opposing coach is now going to tell a recruit considering Tech "we're trying to build something huge and you can be a part of that, but Georgia Tech, on the other hand..." Moreover, I hate to speak in cliches, but if Tech isn't aspiring to be on the level of Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Miami, then isn't it more likely that they'll fall well short of their goal?

And speaking of the Hokies, one of the arguments made by Braine critics is that Virginia Tech was a nothing program until Frank Beamer turned it into the behemoth that it is today, and if the Hokies can ascend, then why can't the Jackets? That's all true, but Braine could use the Beamer example to support his position by pointing out that Beamer was unsuccessful for years at Virginia Tech, but the administration there were patient with him and that patience has been repaid with Sugar Bowl trips, visits from Gameday, and eyesore Orange sleeves. One might also point out that Frank Beamers don't exactly grow on trees and by making a coaching change, Tech would be going for a 5% chance of landing the next Beamer, but the odds are significantly greater that they would land the next Curley Hallman or Bill Lewis, since there are a lot more of those flash in the pan types floating around. If Tech is confident that they can land the next Frank Beamer (or find the next Ralph Friedgen to run the offense,) then by all means, they should take the Nestea plunge and go for it. Just acknowledge that there are far worse fates than 7-5 against a tough schedule before taking that plunge.

By the way, Mark Bradley had a reasonably strong take on this issue here.


Anonymous said...

The real problem I had with Braine's comments was not that expectations should be lower, but it was the academic difficulties at the school. I believe that whenever a school has to resort to this, it is a copout- see ND during Ty's time there.

Here is my feeling on Tech, there are only three other schools in the counrty, UCLA, USC and Miami who play in major cities and are big time programs. Right now, SC owns LA. All you ever hear about is how popular the team and players are. Celebrities line up to hang out and watch them play. Now I understand that there is much less college football played out there and USC has many advantages RIGHT NOW over Tech in that there is no big state school plucking athletes out of there area; however, Tech could and should become that.

As you mentioned, Atlanta is the Capitol of the South, and is also the unofficial capital of black culture East of the Mississippi, save for New York. There are so many musical acts and athletes who reside here. If tech ever got good, could't you just see, say Calvin Johnson hanging out with Shaq, or Jermaine Dupree or Ludacris. The possibilities are endless. Due to the visiblility of Atlanta, Tech should be able to recruit nationally. It is up to the coach to bring in all these influences to helpp recruit the school. I have to imagine that kids today love having Snoop as an unofficial team captain for teh Trojans. Big Boi could do the same for Tech. Heck, Miami got big in large part due to 2 Live Crew.

AS an educated black male, why would I want to go to Clemson, who had to fake a black fraternity party to get Tree Rollins to commit as opposed to Atlanta, with Spellman, Morris Brown, Clark, Morehouse, Georgia State and all of the other institutions which bring black intelligentsia, and booty, into the city.

Michael said...

I thought about Willingham as well when academics were blamed. It's a complete crock that Notre Dame fights with a hand tied behind their backs. Look at: (1) their recruiting rankings throughout the Holtz and Davie eras; and (2) the schools against which they compete for players. Whatever limitations they have are more than made up for by their tremendous exposure whenever they're decent.

I agree that Tech ought to be able to sell Atlanta as a recruiting positive. If I were a young Black man, I'd rather be in Atlanta than some mostly white, rural Southern college town. (The exception is Tallahassee because of FAMU.) On the other hand, I'd also rather have a school with a better social life. The social aspects cut both ways. I'd be interested to see how Tech would do with a really aggressive recruiting head coach.

One factor that makes USC unapproachable, though, is the fact that all of the other major LA teams (read: Lakers and Dodgers) are down right now and they're the only prominent football team in the city. Plus, the Hollywood attentions is an effect of their success, rather than a cause.

Ski said...

I know you have more of a fetish for college football, but how about sharing some insight on the falcons?

SmoothJimmyApollo said...

Regarding Tech's place in the scheme of Atlanta fandom: I can think of no better way to judge this than for someone to park a lawn chair on a busy Atlanta street corner, and count the front-bumper license plates for each school. What could be more empirical? Of course you would ignore bumper stickers and the like, as they would throw off highly scientific results. I am willing to bet money that Georgia Tech is no less than the third most popular ACC school in its home city.