When was the last time that you were unfamiliar with the university's name that graced the National Championship trophy? The list is filled with famous schools like USC, Michigan, and Notre Dame. The question is, why? Obviously, the best programs attract the best athletes, but how do universities develop the best programs in the first place? Some believe that football victories lead to national perception of an institution as producing champions on the field and in the classroom with their graduates, while others say that the perception of a school as having historically solid academics facilitates success of their football program. While neither relationship can be entirely validated as cause-effect, there are some definite correlations between football and academics.
It could be argued that football is the quickest avenue to national recognition, and thus, proliferation as a university. Look at last year's national champion; the University of Texas. While hardly hurting for applicants in the past, UT experienced an additional surge in students wishing to enroll this year. This increase in the pool of applicants will allow UT be more selective with their student body, which should produce a more knowledgeable incoming class of Freshmen. From this, it would be reasonable to expect these students to be more successful than usual throughout their collegiate and professional careers.
As further support, consider the T. Boone Pickens donation to Oklahoma State. It was the largest single gift ever given to a university, and it was stipulated only for athletics. Does this sound ridiculous? I'll admit that I originally thought (and still do to an extent) that it was a misguided idea, but I'm beginning to understand the reasoning behind it. Let's do a little trivia. Where did Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush attend college? The most casual sports fan, and even some others who could care less about football, will be able to tell you that the answer is USC. Let's try a different question. Where did Nobel Prize recipient George Olah attend college? "Uh…." The answer is also USC, but odds are that you didn't know that. (I didn't know, either, until I looked it up.) Let's face it, academics aren't as captivating to a national audience as football.
Conversely, those who would argue for academics being the root of football success need to look no further than Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish, whether you like them or not, truly have a rich history in academics as well as football. That being said, I'm not sure this entitles them to all of the credit in the polls and the media that they get. Still, the mission of a college is first and foremost to educate. (An argument could be made for profit as a primary goal as well, but let's focus on the noble mission of education.) Winning sporting events is secondary to academics for most people not named T. Boone Pickens. Students, athletes, teachers, and administration must make education their priority at all times, or the nation is headed for a troubling future. Although the nation is not always as interested in achievements in this area, it must remain the ultimate focus for a university.
My contention is that many times, a university is unfortunately best known on the national level for their football successes instead of the success of their students and graduates. Although I approach the upcoming football season with as much excitement and anticipation as anyone, the outcome of the season will have no effect on my satisfaction with attending and receiving a degree from Texas Tech University. However, if our football team continues their success, maybe a few more people across the nation will give our academic programs the credit that they deserve. I implore my fellow Red Raiders to enjoy every second of another great football season, but remember to never lose sight of what college is really about.