Pros:Top-10 teams in almost every sport, great coaches, rich history of athletic excellence
Cons:Students treated as "second rate" fans, general lack of fan support throughout the sports
Let's get one thing out of the way first: UT has easily one of the most prestigious athletics departments in the nation, with national titles in virtually every major sport, and a history rich with legendary athletes and the highest standards of excellence. The UT basketball team, led by first-team All-American and possible #1 NBA draft pick Chris Mihm (who I happened to go to high school with), has just had one of their best seasons ever. The baseball team, at 28-5, is currently ranked #2 in the nation. And the UT football team--with back-to-back top 5 recruiting classes and Florida-State quality starters--is, for the first time in decades, looking forward to the unthinkable: an undefeated national championship season. It's truly an exciting, and possibly unparalleled, time for UT sports that so many of its teams are having such incredible success.
But let's also get one other thing out of they way: at any major university, athletics is big business--and perhaps at no other university in the nation is athletics as much a "business" as at UT. And sadly, it often shows, at the expense of the fans and of the athletes.
To put it bluntly, UT alumni--specifically those who donate regularly to the athletics department--are the elite. And for good reason. They support the UT athletic machine with vast wealth that some *universities* could only dream of, and they are rewarded in kind. Of course, whether right or wrong, the unfortunate consequence is that it often comes at the expense of student fans.
Consider men's basketball. Where other schools have legions of rabid student fans crowded around at courtside, cheering on the team and providing home court advantage, the courtside seats at UT are often quite the opposite. In fact, they're often empty. It's not uncommon to see the rafters above packed with screaming student fans, while many of the season ticket holders (whose seats surround the court down below) simply decided not to come to the game, or even to give their tickets to someone who could use them.
Sadly, football is a similar story. The student sections had never been terribly great to begin with, but last year, after the addition of a new upper deck to the stadium, UT Athletics Director Deloss Dodds decided to add some democracy to the decision making process and have an online poll--would you rather have student seating moved into the (godawful) end-zone seats, or would you rather be moved into the upper deck nosebleed seats? Of course, since it was like being asked "would you rather be punched in the stomach or in the face?" only around 100 students voted. And now the student seats are in the end zone area AND the upper deck.
Perhaps another consequence of these policies is UT's (somewhat justified) reputation as having "fairweather fans"--the biggest fans in the world at times of success, but instantly apathetic after the first blowout. And I'm not just talking about blowout LOSSES here, either.
At last year's football game versus the eventual PAC-10 champions Stanford, UT managed to completely dominate the first half through almost flawless execution and skillful play, both on offense and defense. It was one of the most exciting, entertaining first halves I had ever witnessed, with magnificent performances by almost all of UT's star players. I could hardly wait to see what would happen in the second half. And what happened? Everyone left. Well, not quite, but swarms of UT "fans" headed for the exits, during halftime and throughout the third quarter.
Now this is where my definition of a "fan" and other people's definition might differ. To me a fan is someone whose goal is to see the home team excel and perform to the highest possible standard of excellence, and outperform the other team as much as possible. And I'm not talking about some total mismatch where Kansas State racks up a 75-0 score on a weakling school, but I mean a convincing victory over a respectable opponent that proves the team's worth. To those who sometimes start rooting for the OTHER team because they "want to see a good game", I sometimes wonder--if a friend of yours were in a boxing match and winning convincingly, would you start rooting for the other guy because you want to see a "good match"?
And, interestingly enough, later in the 3rd quarter the Stanford game turned out to be the first college game for both Chris Simms and Cory Redding (who got his first sack), both of whom could very well become NFL superstars someday. Of course, practically nobody was around to witness it.
Well, enough on that. My point is simply that it's such a waste to have a top-quality athletic program with top-quality teams, yet see situations like the Cotton Bowl where UT fans were outnumbered by Arkansas fans 2-to-1... and the game was in DALLAS (and of course, UT ended up getting destroyed). And sure, most of the blame lies on the apathetic fans. But with the kinds of decisions made by the likes of Deloss Dodds, who can really blame them?
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