Volume 8, Issue 2 University of Houston
Athletics can be used to boost prestige
The UH football team, after turning itself around in 2003 under new head coach Art Briles, has disappointed fans for the last two seasons. The failure of 2004 seemed inexplicable; 2005 was an improvement, though the team should have finished with at least eight wins instead of a 6-5 record.
But to the delight of Cougar fans and the Athletic Department, that 6-5 record was enough to earn UH an invitation to the Fort Worth Bowl against Kansas on December 23.
Some students undoubtedly rolled their eyes; more probably ignored the news. That's no crime -- being a football fan isn't a requirement for getting the most out of college. (I'd rather not discuss the UH students who are college football fans but don't support the Cougars -- apparently, we're still not allowed to use profanity.)
Nevertheless, playing on a national stage brings a great deal of exposure to a school. Any positive publicity -- not to mention money -- that can be generated for a school like UH, which is trying to garner a reputation as one of the elite public institutions in Texas, helps. I hope the number of high schoolers who choose a university solely on its football program is small, but for many, it undoubtedly factors in.
That's not to say UH will never reach its goals without successful sports programs. But if the University is going to spend millions on athletics, it'd be nice if the major programs could achieve enough success to draw attention to the University through the national sports media.
The relationship between sports success and university prestige is a double-edged sword. On one hand, such a relationship seems ridiculous -- how on earth does a school's ability to recruit athletes and coaches reflect the quality of its academic culture? There are plenty of top-notch schools that don't even have Div. I-A football teams, and plenty of mediocre universities that seem to be perennial contenders in the major college sports.
The fact is, though, this relationship exists, and there's little anyone can do about it. So as long as we're going to try, we might as well take advantage of the situation and try to field the best possible athletes and coaches -- while putting the recruitment of top-notch professors and administrators first, of course.
The push for prestige at UH should be based almost entirely on improved academics and student recruitment. But if the University can use college sports culture to its advantage, it should. Administrators will just have to be careful to keep school first and use athletics as a means of generating spirit and support.
Of course, keeping athletics in check won't be hard with more performances like football's 42-13 loss to one of the Big 12's former whipping boys in the Fort Worth Bowl. Seriously, guys, Kansas?
Better luck next time, Coogs.
Whitaker, opinion columnist for Breaking News,