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Building the brand one sport at a time

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Define a successful athletic program. Does it include national rankings for all your sports? Or are one or two really successful teams enough? I've got some thoughts on that.

Roy DeBoer - used with permission

The wrestling team had just topped Lehigh in what many were calling the biggest match of the season.  It wasn't a Big Ten match, but it was big...very big...because of who the opponent was and why the two squads were wrestling. And we won....on a national stage.

Rutgers Wrestling is, without any argument (there is none out there, right?) the most successful winter sport at Rutgers.  Yes, women's basketball carries some history, but never carried a lot of clout.  And this season, wrestling has been the one sport that has garnered the most attention and has had the most success.

It was the same for women's soccer in the fall.  Going 19-4-3, the team played in the Women's College Cup for the first time.  National rankings (finishing at No. 4) and more media attention than it had received in maybe forever.

Now, around those two very successful teams you had:

  • a 4-8 football team that was mired in scandal and chaos
  • a 6-22 (0-15 in conference) men's basketball team that is in the midst of a 327 game losing streak
  • a men's cross country team that finished 12th (of 12) in the Big Ten Championships
  • a field hockey team that was 0-8 in conference
  • a volleyball team that went 4-28 (1-19 in conference)

How do you change that?  Do you need to change that?  Or, at least, do you need to change that now?

Building -- and protecting -- The Brand

Our Dave White wrote a post on why Eddie Jordan needs to be let go.  Okay, he's written several on that topic.  But this most recent one focused on a topic that I think is very important, especially being in the Big Ten.  Dave stated that keeping Eddie, with the losing streak and the blowout loses, damages the Rutgers brand.

Dave's point, as it has often been, is that Rutgers has not supported....has not cared about....basketball.  It has gotten to the point that people start to feel that losing is okay, that it's acceptable.  If it isn't, wouldn't you do something about it?  Wouldn't you, to use the #AshEra vernacular, change the culture?

The issue of men's basketball will be addressed soon enough, one way or the other.  But what about the other sports?  Not women's soccer and not wrestling.  But how do you justify the records noted above?  Is it facilities?  Is it coaching? Is it an attitude or the culture?  Is it a lack of concern and caring about all the sports?

But then, how many top sports do you need? Do you need all of your other sports to be successful?  Or are one or two good teams per season enough? Define success.

Pat Hobbs' "to do list"

Back in January, we ran a couple of posts on things that Pat Hobbs needed to do....besides raise $100 million.  One of the things we talked about was building the brand.  I don't know about you, but the brand I want to support does not include perennially losing teams. And perennially bad teams, to boot. I don't necessarily expect championships in every sport every year.  But I also don't want to see every team in last place each year either.

Maybe having that one nationally recognized team per season is enough.  Maybe, in a time when we are looking to raise millions for facilities, the best we're going to do is get one very good team.  And then, somewhere down the line, when the Big Ten money is actually coming to us, we look to make the other teams better.

Personally, I say no. That's not acceptable.

Wouldn't it be easier to raise money if you had success?  Wouldn't volleyball fans be more willing to donate if the team won more than 12.5% of its games?  Would cross country (track and field) people be more willing to support the program if it did better than finishing last in its conference?  Wouldn't you have more people interested in attending contests if they knew the home team would occasionally win?

What's the secret?

Scott Goodale built wrestling into a powerhouse while practicing in the basement of the College Avenue Gym.  No big facility to show recruits, just an energetic and dynamic coaching staff and a vision.  Mike O'Neill, following in Glenn Crooks' footsteps, took soccer to the pinnacle while being headquartered in a section of the Hale Center, which most people think is already the "football building".  And he just brought home the No. 12 recruiting class in the country.

So, it can't all be about facilities.  It may just be coaching.  And it may just be about building a vision -- building a brand -- that says we expect, and only accept, excellence.

It means making going to a game or match or meet an event that's worth seeing.  One that's entertaining.  That you bring your kids to, thus raising the next generation of fans.

Maybe it isn't a secret at all. Maybe it's just a matter of will and protecting your brand. Maybe it means Rutgers finally showing that it cares about all 24 sports.