By Chris Watson
In September of 2015 Auburn University threw the “on” switch to one of the largest video score boards in the country. That digital monolith rises majestically, or obnoxiously depending on your view, above the stadium where in 2015 season the Auburn Tigers played to a underwhelming 7 wins, with a conference record of 2-6. The almost 11,000 sq ft high-def board is supposedly so bright that it can be seen in a 30 mile radius. It cost$13.9 million.
College sports, or at least college football and basketball are big, big money. The top 31 football programs in the country pulled down over $100 million in total revenue according to 2016/17 reporting. So it is no wonder that we follow, read about, discuss, even flagrantly advertise with our clothing these power schools at every opportunity. They spend a lot of money to get us to do just that.
The problem is that we tend to think that because something has our state’s name on it that we are supporting local. In a world where the buying and shopping aesthetic has changed, where we want to know where our green beans are grown, where we seek out local restaurants, where local public officials and civic organizations are tripping over themselves to get us to invest our precious dollars in our own communities, we look everywhere for sports entertainment except the one place where it is available, cost effective, and abundant…our own backyard.
The “Local” Sports Myth
Here is a fairly typical conversation with a, supposedly, local football fan.
“Ah, an OSU jersey. I take it you are a Buckeye fan.”
“You bet. I love the Buckeyes. Watch all their games!”
“When did you go to OSU?”
“Oh, I didn’t go there. I went to University of Toledo.”
“Really, aren’t the Rockets playing tonight?”
“I have no idea…”
Before Buckeyes, or Wolverines, or Tigers, or Longhorns, or Spartans, or Bulldogs, or any other supposedly “rabid” fans come after me in their gang, I mean team logo wear I am NOT objecting to being a fan of large school, college athletics. You can argue OSU vs MI until you pass out from exhaustion or your spouse forces you into the car well past when you promised you would go home. Go right ahead. The point isn’t to restrict your love of sports, the point is broaden it.
It is a myth, for instance, to think that a significant amount of money spent on a powerhouse team is in support of “local”. These athletic departments are large, expensive, and successful by virtue of NOT being local, by casting a wide talent net, and looking to reap large TV audiences who have nothing to do with our back yard. The players may wear “Michigan” on their jerseys but much of the money they generate has nothing to do with the state they, hypothetically, represent.
Nor does that narrow talent pool tend to stay local. Although the athletic powerhouse schools are fine educational institutions, it is a good bet that, unless you live in Columbus, Ann Arbor, or anywhere in close proximity to a major institution, your next pharmacist, nurse, accountant, financial advisor, loan officer, or the engineer who plans the repairs to your local water system will probably come from the institution in or very close to your
home town, not your favorite powerhouse school. This doesn’t take away from the academic achievements of the large state institutions we follow, but it shouldn’t engender us to them either. The next college grad we will need to depend on will, most likely, come from a university right next door.
The Local Sports Challenge
Who doesn’t like walking into a huge stadium or packed field house and feel the energy of being part of a big…and I mean really BIG GAME! We all do. College sports, in many ways have become the farm team system for professional basketball and football. They have allowed more of us to experience that sense of entertainment and en masse excitement in a way that is, at least a bit, more accessible than their professional cousins.
Still, there is something about watching a game with 4000 fans and feeling right in the middle of the action. Sure, it isn’t going to swing the coaches poll one way or another. However, at our local level watching these young athletes is like watching the Olympics. It may not be the most “important” competition that weekend but it is still serious and these athletes have worked just as hard and deserve our attention. More importantly, like in the Olympics, you can see some very good athletics and by seeing we mean actually see it. Supposed “nosebleed” seats don’t exist at this level. You don’t need 110000 square foot hi def jumbotrons because you can get good seats in the first place.
It is difficult to think that attending a BGSU Falcons game is the “same” as attending a game in the Horseshoe. It isn’t. However, eating at a local Italian restaurant isn’t the same as going to Olive Garden either. In the world of restaurants going local is, on the whole, healthier, more economical, and much more supportive of the local economy. The same can be said for local college sports.
The Broader Picture
Besides the usual arguments about football and basketball, if you like athletics our local universities are offering world class competitions outside of these two behemoths. The list is to long but in a few words: volleyball, hockey, baseball, lacrosse, even equestrian events are available for our enjoyment just a few miles
away. Also, this is where we put in a plug for women’s athletics. Under attended and under appreciated, women’s athletics are starting to gain momentum. Many young and increasingly influential women in our community refer to their time in college athletics as pivotal to their leadership skills and over all work ethic. If ever there was a time to feel connected to a growing movement now is that time.
And I would be remiss if I stayed in just sports. Our local universities have some of the best arts and performance programs anywhere. They are producing amazing music, ensembles, and stage productions that are well worth our attention.
So as always, buy local. Support local. And above all, GO LOCAL! Listed below are links to some of our great local school athletic web pages. Sure, these sports may not be conveniently on TV but like all things local, the experience is highly valued, endearingly supportive, and well worth the effort.
Publishers Note: Last year the UT Rockets won the Mac Championship and went on to play in The Lady Rockets won the MAC championship in basketball and went on to represent the school in the NIT tournament. Not a bad run for a couple of local teams.
All photo’s curtesy of respective university athletic departments.