How important is a successful college sports programs to a school's identity?

This is less a strictly sports centric question and more a social identity question, which is why I’m placing it here vs the gaming forum.

In looking at the Penn State situation it seems to some extent their entire identity as a school and even as human beings is wound into the Penn state football program. The quality of the school as an academic institution seems almost secondary to the maintenance and preservation of a top notch football program.

Penn State, so far as I can tell, is a well a regarded school academically, and yet this issue seems to be the overwhelming focus of the students and alumni.

Is it the same elsewhere? I went to the Univ of MD College Park in the late 70’s, and while there was a lot of school spirit it was not nearly messianic or core to their entire existence as seems to be the case with Penn State.

I haven’t followed the whole Penn State scandal very closely, and most of what I have read has been from right here on SDMB, but as a casual college football fan, I was under the impression that Penn State has been a mostly mediocre football program for the past 10 or 15 years…

Do they have any BCS Bowl Game wins?

Any recent conference championships?

I get a school being loyal to a beloved, dottering old coach (jackass) because he was the captain at the helm back in the Glory Days, but I don’t understand the reverence and even deification that Joe Paterno seemingly engendered from the entire Penn State community, based on his “meh” coaching performance over the past couple of decades.

Part of the reason that Penn State is well regarded academically is because of the successful football program. Students want to attend a school with a winning football (or basketball) program. So as the number of applicants goes up, the school can be more selective, raising the academic standards. And out-of-state students pay more and therefore are more “profitable.” Alumni also donate more to a school with a big-time program and, in the case of public schools, the state government offers more money. See this article about UConn.

At Cal State Hayward, back in the 80’s, the success of the sports team had absolutely zero effect on the school culture. I even played in the pep band, and couldn’t care less how well the teams did; I was just there for the girls. No, really.

To be fair, the school really didn’t HAVE much in the way of culture, being a commuter college and all, but still.

I used to be friends with someone who attended Penn State in the mid 2000s. It’s true, the football team is important, but the students really treat the school as a massive fraternity. The students consider themselves family in a way that I never experienced at the tech school I attended.

Ask anyone from Nebraska.

I went to University of California, Santa Cruz. While we did have a notable ultimate frisbee team, our other sports were somewhat…lacking. As in, essentially non-existant.

We had plenty of identity and school spirit. Go banana slugs!

It is worth noting…

  1. The NCAA doesn’t sponsor Ultimate.

  2. I called it Ultimate since the other word is a registered trademark of Wham-O.

  3. The UCSC is still cool.

I suggest there may be some confirmation bias here ( both yours and mine ). In my entire life I have never met any non-player who gave one single shit about about the quality of the football program when they were applying to college as an undergrad. I find the concept pretty bizarre and I like football and basketball.

Of course I went to a large state school with an atrocious football program that absolutely nobody cared about. And historically many of my friends have cared little or nothing about sports ( I do, but I’m in a minority among my wider social circle ). So our environment colors our views.

Still I think your statement is pretty questionable.

Much as I would like it to be otherwise, it’s a big part of how name recognition is built for schools outside the Ivy League. My alma mater, the University of Tulsa, had to make a choice in the late 1970s about whether to “invest” in staying a NCAA 1-A school. After looking into it a bit, I gritted my teeth and worked to convince my fellow students to vote for the necessary student fees. Three decades later, a few of you have probably heard of the University of Tulsa. How many of you would have had it dropped out of NCAA Division 1-A?

As someone who doesn’t play or care about sports…having a great sports team is actually a negative factor, to me. I know how much money gets funneled into the sports department, and how other departments (quite possibly the ones that I am interested in) will get their funding slashed.

I went to Purdue. While I was there (late 70s) the football team went to a bowl game, but I don’t recall which. Some folks went wild - I guess it was the first time in a long time that there was a team worth bragging about. Didn’t matter to me either way - I was there for the engineering school. Apparently for some it mattered, but I never hear Purdue come up in conversations about collegiate sports.

Something that totally befuddles me - my brother, brother-in-law, and nephew all went to the same high school. It has a big rivalry with another school and every Thanksgiving, they have a big game. My bro, who graduated in '74, and bro-in-law, class of '79, continue to attend the games every year. High school? Really?? Apparently the sports identity is important to some. To some of us, it’s just background noise.

So? Because it’s just “sports,” someone can’t enjoy after they leave high school.

And for a lot of people, “the big game” is just an excuse to get together with your high school buddies again.

At most major universities (BCS schools), few dollars are “funneled” into the athletic departments, they are almost entirely self-funded. They get loads of money for football and basketball TV contracts, plus the Big Ten and PAC-12 have their own networks that bring in millions more from showing replays of games as well as action from the non0revenue sports like track and field and tennis and skiing. If a school’s athletic department is particularly flush, they will often donate funds to, say, the building of a new library.

Schools like Ohio State, Texas, Penn State, LSU, Purdue, Nebraska, and Oklahoma do not contribute one dollar to their athletic programs. This number will increase as new TV contracts are being negotiated.

Obviously you and I view sports differently, especially the high school variety. I didn’t go to any of the games when I was in high school and once I left the school, I didn’t care about the teams, or the clubs I belonged to, or the choir I sang in. I’m not putting them down or putting down those who follow such thing - I just don’t get the appeal. And it’s the same deal with college - I got what I wanted - an education and a degree. Then I moved on with my life.

I’ve had coworkers who wore team colors and jerseys and whatnot, whose first question to new employees was “Where did you go to school?” followed by an evaluation of their schools’ teams. Each to his own. When they realized I didn’t care about that stuff, they didn’t bring it up around me. We managed to work together as the professionals we were. I didn’t look down on them - I just don’t get it. I’m pretty sure in the grand scheme of things it just doesn’t matter what my opinion on the subject is.

I was a college prof for years and the general observation was that there was something of a inverse correlation between how good a school was and the success of its football program. Not perfect, as Penn State shows, and in the Western US many top schools are state schools so they can’t avoid big time athletics.

MIT is never going to win a national football title.

I was embarrassed when my PhD university started getting ranked highly after I left (and fortunately has not done well for a while).

So I am constantly amazed when I meet people who think the opposite. Just flat out amazed. Especially with the local Big Time Football diploma mill state school. If it wasn’t for their football team, no one would have ever heard of the place. And that is not a good thing at all.

What a ridiculous observation to make, especially for college professors. It might be a nerdy, fun little conversation to have among sports haters at the University, but it has no basis in fact.

Going by the Academic Ranking of World Universities, UC-Berkeley (2) is capable of winning a football championship. They are sending more athletes to the Olympics than any other school in the country. Stanford (3) has finished the last two seasons ranked 4th and 7th. UCLA (13) has traditionally been a top program. Washington (16) won a national title in 1991 and finished third in 2001. Wisconsin (17) is a perrenial top 20 team. Michigan (22) is one of the all-time greats in football. Colorado (32) won a national title in 1990. I could go on and on.

Re-read the part of my post you quoted. What do Berkeley, UCLA, Washington and Colorado have in common? Also, what does “Not perfect” mean to you?

When ten (including Texas (38), Penn State (43), and USC (46)) of the 50 best universities in the world also have outstanding football programs, “not perfect” is not the term that comes to mind. “Wrong” is more apt.

Essentially, your argument is “that there was something of a inverse correlation between how good a school was and the success of its football program” except when there wasn’t.

I agree, it’s hard to argue an inverse correlation here. There is a sizable overlap between BCS appearances and rankings in the top 100. I’ll present some raw data, but I have no desire to run a statistical analysis on it tonight. I take full blame for any errors, since I didn’t bother to double check my work.

If I’ve tabulated correctly, there have been 47 schools to play a total of 124 appearances in BCS bowls. 17 of those schools accounting for 51 appearances were schools in the top 100 of the world rankings. Extending to top 150 gets 23 schools/63 appearances, or nearly half of the possible slots. 41 of the 47 appear in the 500 in the full list, accounting for 111 of 124 appearances.

Another way of thinking of this: there were 54 US schools in the world top 100. Two of them are medical schools with no undergraduate enrollment. This means that 17 out of 52 have appeared in BCS games, which is an extremely strict definition for football success. If we extend to teams in or about to enter an automatic qualifying conference, we add another 12 schools, so over half of the top 52 schools compete at the highest football level. (And, conversely, 29 out of 76 (I think) AQ teams are in the top 100 worldwide.)

And we’ve still ignored basketball and schools that have attained high levels of recent success in next tier sports, such as lacrosse (Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Cornell) and hockey (Boston U, Cornell).