Outside the Groves: Cinderella Dances in Estero, But Are Big Time Sports Worth it For Florida’s Non-Legacy Public Universities?

The nation has been riveted by the recent run of Florida Gulf Coast University’s basketball program. Ironically a few weeks ago when I posted to Twitter a picture of myself at the Alico Arena (FGCU’s home arena) as the home of “giant killers” (Florida Gulf Coast shocked ACC Champion Miami earlier in the season) people tweeted back at me, what did I mean and who was FGCU? Now everyone knows the school, and it’s evidence as to how big-time sports can elevate the profile of a public University. However, this comes with some peril as well.

I work in sports these days but would readily admit I don’t really follow sporting events that I do not have a direct interest in. For example, I don’t watch the Super Bowl and don’t watch any American pro sports besides Major League Soccer and the soccer league I work for (the NASL). I do watch college sports, however.  But what  has bothered me lately as someone who follows College Basketball and until about 2007 followed College Football is the emphasis Florida’s newer public universities have put on athletics particularly football.

The University of Florida which has a big alumni base and whose athletic success has helped fuel academic programs is an exception to what I am about to say. Florida State University could be an exception also if they were able to bring academics and research dollars up to a level to justify UF like sports fanaticism and budgets. But this article is not about UF, FSU or UCF another school that has done things more or less the right way. This is more about FAU, FIU, UNF, USF and the private University of Miami.

While it can be argued and will by many that football programs at FAU, FIU and potentially at UNF bring in revenue and recognition not otherwise afforded those institutions, I would strongly argue the opportunity costs both financial and time-wise outweigh the benefits of establishing a D1 football program at developing urban schools. Other sports, including Men’s and Women’s Basketball have suffered at these schools since the football program began. The same can be said of USF which save a two year period recently has struggled in both men’s and women’s basketball since the Bulls football program began. UCF in the last decade rediscovered the value of promoting other programs both athletic and academic just as the University was growing into one of the largest public schools in the country. UCF stands apart from other non-legacy Florida schools in the way it has established its reputation in recent years both academically and athletically.

It is to me is no coincidence that the University of Miami’s academic reputation has been elevated the very same time its football program has become less and less relevant nationally and even locally. Perhaps it’s the fan in me but for over a decade I have advocated UM transitioning from a “football school” which is the province of larger big budget state funded institutions to being a “basketball school” since the Hurricanes play in the ACC (widely regarded as the best Basketball league in the nation) is a medium-sized private school and sits in the heart of a major urban area. I have seen urban schools both public and private like Georgetown, UCLA, Temple,  St John’s, Marquette, Maryland and Boston College among others excel at men’s & women’s Basketball while striving to maintain high academic standards. UM has gotten a great benefit from its football program but that benefit long ago turned into shame and embarrassment. It also created a stigma about a University which it does not deserve. The University of Miami is a fine academic institution but thanks to football the terms “Sun Tan U” and Thug U” often roll off the tongue of those who do not know any better. And as we know wrong perceptions often becomes reality in the minds of many including members of the media.

Unfortunately, I believe a certain anti-intellectualism plays into the excitement about football at these universities. While it has been argued the football programs builds pride in the Universities it also most definitely takes away from properly establishing universities as academic and research based institutions. The establishment of football programs at these schools have also allowed Universities that were growing and becoming important urban commuter schools and student options into subjects of ridicule nationally. Again, just about every major university nationally maintains a men’s and women’s basketball program, but Florida’s schools have de-emphasized those  affordable programs in the search of football glory over the past several years. Universities should foster pride among its student body, alumni and local residents in academic, scientific and mathematical achievements as well as athletics. Florida’s governing class should

Florida Gulf Coast’s NCAA run can serve as an example of elevating a university’s profile without starting a football program. Hopefully FGCU will continue to build its academic and research capabilities, use it’s men’s and women’s basketball programs as anchors athletically and work to bring real pride to the people southwest Florida. FGCU has demonstrated how emphasizing Basketball, a sport much more cost-effective than Football can put a shcool on a map more quickly and reasonably than the other south Florida public schools who have established D1 football programs. Public University Football programs should only be established once a certain threshold for academics and research grants/dollars have been established. I am not qualified to ascertain what that threshold should be, but I feel it ought to be put in place.

12 comments

  1. Yeah because thousands of people come out to see some dorky kid do a chemistry experience or lecture about English literature.

    You are an idiot. Stick to politics where you have some clue. Basketball is a sport for big city programs as you point out, what does that have to do with our state schools?

    Oh and stop freaking talking about women’s basketball? Who the hell cares about that title XI b/s.

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    1. It’s Title 9 by the way not Title 11.

      And Title 9 is probably the BEST THING that has ever happened to college athletics. You know these schools are co-ed. Not the exclusive province of macho males.

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  2. Kartik’s point that just because thousands of people come to see it doesn’t mean it’s good for the development of the school. Plus as a Tampa native who has seen USF’s football program decline in the last couple of years, I can tell you that thousands of people will not always come.

    I’m no expert in academia or chemistry ‘experiences,’ but it seems like a pretty good point.

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  3. Very well said! I agree 100%.

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  4. Florida Rules · ·

    Stick to soccer and move to England if you want to insult us for loving football and pushing it. Nobody cares about research. That doesn’t attract applicants or money. These schools provide educational opportunities and as a liberal you should know football programs attract more students and give opportunities to kids in inner cities. But because of your union buddies you oppose helping those kids anyway.

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  5. Blue Dog Dem · ·

    Maybe if Soccer was the sport of choice with all the foreigners who over stay their student visas and accents that sound like the Beatles, KK would embrace it. Typical left wing anti-social europhile. You grew up in Florida, now act like it Kartik!

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  6. Florida Dem · ·

    Embarrassing article for someone who claims to be so intellectual. Football FUNDS all the NERDY “research” you go on and on about. Football is the identity of this state and the people who apply to go to FSU, UF, and now USF and UCF do so because of the football success of those stories. It is not our problem here in north Florida that urban thuggish culture brought Miami and the partying immoral south Floridians down. The NCAA should shut down that thug program. Stick to politics because you know nothing about colleges and sports. Go back to hanging out with all the Yankees and Paco and Pedro down in Miami and Fort Lickerdale. Let true Floridians who love this state decide what to do with it. You are a #LOSER. I do not care how much you talk about Reubeuen Askew or Bob Graham, a true Floridian would not diss college football.

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  7. Concerned Democrat · ·

    THIS IS A BRILLIANT ARTICLE. BUT IT SEEMS ALL THE WANT TO BE JOCKS ON HERE ARE AGAINST IT. WE NOW KNOW WHO ARE TRUE PROGRESSIVES AND WHO AREN’T.

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  8. Great article! While its true that emphasizing football in a university can seemingly de-prioritize academic achievements, it does however, bring a certain “college pride” for students and makes the school enticing, whether for the “right reasons” or not. Both should go hand in hand like at UF, great school, great sports!

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  9. Lewis in Lauderdale · ·

    Great great article. I am an FAU grad though admittedly I bleed Orange and Green for the Canes. Sports should enrich an academic institution not overwhelm it. And it should never be used as a billboard for a prison privitization company!!!

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  10. Typical southern mentality…spend all your money on your football program. Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina, LSU, Arkansas…all crap schools. As far as the south, the better the football program, the crappier the school. Both Florida and FSU are considered “alright” schools, but not even near the top. There are very few “top tier” schools in the south, and most of them have crappy football programs. Yes, they might be better in basketball, but it costs a lot less to run a basketball program than a football program. Even with that, they are sports obsessed.

    Now, look at other schools like Ohio State, Notre Dame, USC, Michigan…all schools with a football tradition, but they don’t sacrifice academics. And for all of you who say “but their football program funds their university”, I’m sorry but you would be wrong. These programs have had “strong” traditions for over 100 years. In fact, the universities funded the football programs back then, not the other way around.

    You can have a strong football program and strong academics, but that isn’t the case in the south. If you go to a University of Illinois game (which I have), a large amount of the people that attend those games either currently attend, are alumni, or are staff members or faculty. I have been to a number of UF games as well, and I see more “Larry the Cable Guy” looking people there than those that might have once attended the university. The south’s obsession with sports might explain why IQs, SAT scores, GPAs and all other academic factors are lower in the south than in the north.

    Someone mentioned UCF….that is a perfect case-in-point. UCF is considered one of the “crappiest of the crappy”. It is almost a state-run version of University of Phoenix. It is basically just a degree mill. USF is similar. Yeah, you can afford nice buildings, but when you are giving out crap degrees, it doesn’t matter. Just look at the placement records of Florida and southern universities compared to universities in the north. There is a BIG gap!

    Of course, those who are infantile when it comes to debate will tell Kartik to “stay with soccer” or tell me to “stay with IR” or something. When you say that, you are just proving that you cannot debate the argument and you try to divert the debate elsewhere. Honestly, quite coming up with the “go back to ….” excuses, grow a pair of balls and actually debate this issue. Quit proving your ignorance.

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  11. Look at Tebow’s SAT score….I rest my case.

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