Remember all those great things you’ve heard that happen to colleges with successful football programs? They’re mostly true. Successful football seasons often lead to more admissions applications, increased donations, stronger institutional brand, and growing pride among alums, students, and supporters.
When winning is accomplished within the rules, and with good academic results, the value of favorable publicity received by the school is immeasurable. Through successful football a college can achieve a level of name recognition it couldn’t possibly reach by conventional advertising and marketing efforts.
It may not be very flattering of our society, but it’s true that the general public may know of your school first by its football accomplishments. But that’s OK when it provides a platform for college leaders to tell a vast audience their story about great academic, research, and public service activities happening on campus.
For that reason many colleges have started, or reinstated, football programs in the last few years, despite the budget challenges associated with doing so.
But what happens after a college has achieved national prominence through a consistent, winning football program?
The joy of victory may be replaced by a desperate need to continue winning.
Once established as a big-time winner, the school can’t slow down or look back. It must continue to build and grow its program through improved facilities to sustain recruiting efforts, higher salaries to retain top coaches, and perhaps adjustments in admission standards or academic offerings to ensure continued football success against fast-approaching and aggressive competitors.
When caught up in this mode, the stakes can become so high that losing a football game is seen as a catastrophic institutional event.
I’ve been on campus after my football team has lost a big game. The disappointment is palpable, but business goes on as usual on campus. Great students, teachers, and researchers continue to do their thing. Maybe it’s a needed reminder that the university is much bigger than football. It’s kind of like a market correction—a sudden jolt that provides an opportunity to put things in perspective.
And what do college football coaches do after losing an important game? They regroup and rally the troops. They get ready for the next challenge. Great football coaches handle losses better than anyone involved in college sports. They stay positive and motivate their players. They know how hard it is to win, and they recognize better than anyone that the agony of defeat makes the joy victory that much sweeter.
The best stories in football, and college sports overall, come after defeat. We love to see athletic teams bounce back. Most fans naturally gravitate toward the underdog. We celebrate the “worst to first” teams and marvel at their accomplishments.
You can’t win them all, and probably shouldn’t.
So, fellow college football fans, I wish your favorite team great success and hope you win almost all of your games.
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