Friday, October 22, 2004

Tulane Future

I have an aversion to coming on here and talking non-"football as played on the field" issues- but there has been a ton of interest lately in the Times-Picayune about the nature and future of Tulane football as a program.

I understand the frustrations with the coach, the recuiting, the support, etc. But all of these are tactical troubles sort of unrelated to a larger strategic orientation.

The problems at Tulane are generational. It is going to take a generational focus to solve them. In the late 1960s, the landscape of college football changed- tilting the balance largely in favor of large schools with enormous resources. Everything since has largely happened to reward these large schools and a few lucky hanger-ons: the super conferences, the BCS, the disparate television deals, the wholesale dismissal of academic dignity.

Accordingly, I mostly reject the comparison of Tulane to places like Stanford or BYU. You want true comparables for Tulane? Try Emery or Washington & Lee or William & Mary or the Coast Guard Academy or the University of Chicago or VMI- schools that faced this brave new world, trapped on the outside looking in and blanched- perhaps rightfully- at the requirements. The flotsam and jetsam- the Rices and Tulanes and SMUs and Tulsas- have shown determination to survive.

Tulane has had four winning season in the past eight campaigns- and won a pair of Bowl games. Does anyone honestly believe that another series of coaching changes, or JUCOs, or a marching band, or playing one more game or less at Gormley, or a student body where 3,000 attend the game versus 1,000, would change that- other than marginally? Or sell 5,000 more tickets?

Second, the idea that Tulane is “plan-less”, or has not given a tremendous amount of thought to the nature of its football program is totally incorrect. Almost ludicrous. This is a multi-million dollar business run by grown-ups. Tulane has four goals: find a coach that can get them to a decent bowl game every 4-5 years, play most seasons around 3-7 wins, graduate tons of players, and run a program that causes zero off-field problems and embarrassments.

And you know what, they are meeting these goals- while steadily making progress toward putting the program on a more solid financial footing.

But these are the tactical issues- and a lot of thought gets bogged down here.

Since the late 60’s Tulane has had very few periods of sustained success, albeit limited, as 1997-2004. Maybe these folks at Tulane are doing what can be expected. You can’t show me anyone who has done much better here- has everyone been incompetent for 30 or so years at Tulane? I can show you folks at Tulane who were much worse though. Many in fact.

To fix Tulane's more general competitiveness issue, again, is a generational repair. It also has nothing to do with the day-to-day travails of the Scelfo regime- as long as he’s fulfilling the four goals laid out above.

The sorts of answers we are looking for are more strategic than tactical:

It means taking the 25 years required to grow the league. In ten years, C-USA has made great strides. Today, it is a good a league than the Big East- particularly at the top. In 15 more years, I bet it will have closed the gap substantially on the ACC.

• It means a decade or more long debate about a stadium and facilities.

• It means realizing this out-of-state student body that awful Louisiana schooling forces Tulane to recruit, coupled with subsequent alumni dispersal due to the stagnant nature of Louisiana’s economy, is a real problem to the growth of a fan base. And whoo- there is no easy solution to that one coming in the next ten years.

• It means slowly forcing the NCAA to re-emphasize competition as a keystone to further growth. The NFL and NCAA basketball are not so wildly popular, growing at the expense of college football, because the teams are so disparate in ability. The exact opposite is true. Competition breeds interest.

And so on…