Fixing Georgia State football, part III: A little bit of attention

This was the scene in last week's game.

This was the scene in last week’s game.

In part III of “Fixing Georgia State Football,” I’m going to address the lack of attention from students and alumni that affects the program, and a possible result of that inattentiveness. The first part, “you and your wallet,” and the second part, “admissions,” can be read by clicking on those links.

Among the reasons that Georgia State started football were to enhance the student experience so that they and the alumni could strengthen their connection with the university.  Starting a football program would also theoretically raise the profile of the university as it played various schools around the country, with its highlights playing on sports shows, and its name appearing in the scroll of scores on TV, smartphones and tablets.

It’s some of the same reasons that other schools recently started the sport.

But what happens when the Georgia State football program is underperforming so badly few support it or want to be associated with it?

Twice this year the number of people who attended a Georgia State home game reached historic lows for the program. The worst came in last week’s loss to Texas State in which just 3,485 people passed through a turnstile at the Georgia Dome. Sure, there were lots of reasons (holiday weekend, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech being played earlier), but the numbers are the numbers and they reflect a growing dissatisfaction with the product and the results on the field.

So looking back at two of the reasons for starting football, how could the university’s reputation eventually be affected by fielding a team that can’t be competitive because it lacks the necessaries to recruit and therefore lacks the top-to-bottom depth in players needed for the Sun Belt?

Here’s one thought:

There is a theory in marketing called brand personality in which human characteristics are associated with a brand or company name.  For example, Apple is considered daring and innovative. Southwest is fun and dependable. Google is thorough and adaptive.

What characteristics would be currently associated with Georgia State’s football team? There would be a few positive, but most would likely be negative if you polled a sports fan in Atlanta.

That leads to the next question: If the alumni aren’t doing what’s necessary to help the university field even a competitive football team, or to even support the team it does have, should that university be expected to field competitive graduates? Doesn’t it, fairly or not, call into question some of the university’s other efforts?

It is a tough question to answer because I can’t find any empirical evidence to support that query (which may indicate that either losing teams don’t affect the university, or that it’s never been studied). There’s also a long trail of donations to other colleges and schools at Georgia State that indicate enormous interests in their futures, compared to the future of the athletics department.

But let’s turn the question around. Instead of debating if losing in football can affect a university’s academic reputation, consider the positive effects of fielding a winning football, of which there is evidence with mixed results.

Google stories about Appalachian State’s admissions the years after it beat Michigan in football.

I’ll save you the trouble… here is a the crux from a story by Dennis Dodd:

It will be highly unlikely that a school like Appalachian State will profit from one game that is tied directly to a 17 percent increase in applicants, a 24 percent boost in attendance and a 73 percent goose in licensing royalties.

Here’s more from the Fayetteville Observer:

The year before the Michigan upset, Appalachian State received 11,468 student applications.

The year after? The number jumped to 13,181.

The victory raised the profile of ASU, contributing to increases in the GPAs of incoming freshmen (3.68 in 2007 to 3.87 in 2008), average SAT scores of incoming freshmen (1,124 to 1,163) and donations to the athletic department’s fundraising organization ($1.367 million to $2.295 million, with the current mark reaching about $3.5 million).

If you really want to have your mind blown, check out this link from Freakonomics that makes the case that winning football games can actually enhance the academic reputation of a university.

There are other examples out there that argue the benefit, and there are others that say the effect is mostly minimal, other than for a few outliers.

You can argue that Georgia State’s football program has only been around five years, so there hasn’t been enough time to negatively or positive affect the university’s reputation.

That is true. But the counter to that is you had a chance to build something correctly from scratch, which is what other schools have done (ODU, USA, UTSA) and are so far failing and few of the alumni or even the current students seem to care based upon attendance and fundraising.

How to fix this problem for Georgia State? Again, money and attention.

Sunnier days for the program when it was featured in ESPN the magazine.

Sunnier days for the program when it was featured in ESPN the magazine.

If alumni don’t want to give even small amounts of money en masse to build the facilities that are needed, they can at least consider giving their time to generate revenue and interest by buying tickets and showing up to football games so that the Dome doesn’t appear so cavernous and the attendance doesn’t become a message board punchline that affects recruiting. Extra revenue from tickets sales can be turned into something positive to help the team. The extra attendance can help recruiting. After all, what player of quality with scholarship choices wants to perform for a school that not only doesn’t have the same facilities as other schools, but also doesn’t have many fans?

Does an alumni’s lack of pride or interest in a university’s sports team indicate a lack of pride or interest in the university itself?

It goes back to this: When you talk to people in sports about Georgia State the same theme comes out over and over: it’s a sleeping giant. Great location. Great people. Good academic reputation. Good conference. Unbelievable potential.

But potential  isn’t realized overnight and it doesn’t develop in a vacuum. And Georgia State football is as close to being played in a vacuum as any revenue sport I’ve experienced.

Not a lot of money coming in. Not a lot of people showing up. Not a lot of conversations on social media taking place. Not a lot of airtime on Atlanta’s radio and TV properties. Still some space in Atlanta’s largest newspaper.

It’s hard to build a program when no one seems to be interested.

If operating a football team isn’t going to be done right by everyone involved — and I think Georgia State’s administration (development, marketing, operations, communications), coaches and players are doing as much as they can with resources at hand — then it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to generate consistent success.

Which takes us back to some of the reasons the program was started: if the program isn’t going to be done right, is there a positive benefit to students and alumni from football?

It’s time for all of the alumni — even those with an allegiance to a bigger school and who attended Georgia State way before football when it was a commuter school — or those with an interest to decide what they want for the program.

Do they want it to become a true FBS program, or do they want it to be FBS in name only?

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