Saturday, April 2, 2011

Tulane plowing millions into football?

Cowen Pledges Greater Football Funding - The Hullabaloo. Excellent Article.

This is a curious little announcement. I've asked around and what the administration is thinking is they've done research. Their surveys indicate that there's a strong correlation between football programs and alumni donations. Good foobtall programs have a high rate of alumni donorship, while bad football programs generally correlate with poor alumni donorship. That's what I've heard from a couple of different sources on the administration's thinking. The overall plan is to pump up the football program (which loses a couple million dollars a year) so that it at least stands on its own feet and the halo effect of a better football team would pump up alumni donations. At least, that's the plan.

I'll add a few bits of history. Tulane was a founding member of the SEC. They left because "the board thought they could make more money as an independent, like Notre Dame."

Tulane also had Sugar Bowl Stadium (seating 80,000+), which they tore down and shifted over to the Superdome. That one is actually fairly understandable at the time. They didn't have the money to do the extensive renovations the stadium needed and there was this big, shiny new stadium downtown. Unfortunately, the Superdome is the absolute worst venue possible for a small football program. 20,000 fans (a good Tulane attendance figure) are lost in the cavernous, freezing cold stadium. Note that Cowen mentions a fund-raising drive of $60 million to build an Uptown stadium. From what I'm told, it would be ~30,000 seats and be situated one of three locations: wedged into the practice field area (behind Riley Center; tight, but possible), Audubon Park, or Uptown Square, which Tulane acquired about 6 or 7 years ago. We'll see how the neighbors react if they get the money lined up and want to start construction.

I know that Cowen isn't exactly on my Christmas card list, but take a look at the track record. When Cowen arrived at campus we had a Bowden-led football team with offensive genius of Rich Rodriguez calling a potent offense, the oldest degree granting college for women (Newcomb), engineering programs so old, they dated to founding of ABET (in addition to other, smaller academic programs eliminated in the Renewal Plan), and the Princeton Review ranked Tulane #31 overall. Now, we're ranked #51 (Tulane has griped and moaned about using Katrina-tainted data for dropping it out of the top 50 {well, what about the other 19 spots...}) and we're the only top 50 {51} school without an ABET-accredited program in Computer Science (go ahead and look it up for yourself). Even LSU has (finally) gotten their CS program accredited!

I really want Tulane to do well, but we'll have to see where things are headed. I just can't help wondering if this is really the best way to spend this money.

Here's Cowen's email:

Good Morning:

It has been about six years since Katrina almost destroyed New Orleans and Tulane University. Since that time, Tulane has not only survived but has reimagined itself and become stronger academically and financially. This recovery has not been easy, but the Tulane community was determined to move forward. We have made substantial progress in achieving our academic and financial goals, which have been the primary focus of our efforts since August 29, 2005.

We are now in the stage of our renewal where we can and should continue to focus on the development and success of Tulane Athletics. Next year we will once again field 16 sports teams, fulfilling the NCAA's requirement for competing at the highest level of collegiate athletics.

We have made major commitments to our baseball, basketball and volleyball programs, with a new practice and training facility currently under construction for the latter programs and beautiful Greer Field at Turchin Stadium for our baseball team. These improvements were consistent with the university's recovering finances after Katrina and were made with our academic priorities always in mind. We are proud of what has been accomplished in athletics given all the unprecedented challenges we faced. But the task is not yet complete. Our next goal, which will be the most difficult one to accomplish, is to build a consistently successful football program.

Our vision for football is a program that opens every campaign with the talent and resources to win our division and conference and participate in post-season games - as opposed to one that has periodic winning seasons, which has been the experience at Tulane for the last five or six decades. We will not achieve this overnight, but we must begin the journey for success right now with clear and unambiguous progress made every year, starting with this coming season.

An overview of the evolving plan to accomplish this goal is outlined in The Playbook. In the months ahead we will refine our plans as we marshal the resources necessary to achieve our goals. We will build a successful football program while adhering to Tulane's philosophy of enrolling student-athletes who desire a first-rate education. Our student-athletes are committing their collegiate careers to achieve at high levels, on and off the field, and our coaches will dedicate every bit of their talent and experience to help them in their quest.

For us to be successful, it will require a true team effort -- an effort comparable to what we did after Katrina when many naysayers around the country counted us out. The journey now begins; we hope you will join us.

Have a great weekend,

UPDATE- Changed capacity figure for Sugar Bowl Stadium.


Ray Ward said...

One little quibble: the seating capacity of Tulane Stadium wasn’t quite 100,000. It was more like 81,000 or so. Still a pretty good sized football stadium. And I definitely share your view that Cowen’s priorities seem to be out of whack.

Clay said...

I seemed to remember that it was 101K for a Tulane/LSU game, but I'm wrong.

It was 80,000 normal capacity. Changes made. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

As an alum, I have to say that the analysis that one constantly hears about how much of a mistake it was for them to decide back in the 1960's to become an independent is stupid. During Tulane's last few years in the SEC they were getting their butts kicked time and time again. Also, does anyone think that Tulane would not be enjoying a similar experience now if somehow they could rejoin the SEC? Is it worth the income that they might make? I say that that's doubtful. The reason that they were losing games at the time (as well as in the current time) is that they didn't/don't want to "lower their standard" and/or make the total commitment to winning games. The real key decision was circa 1951 when they stopped having a Phys. Ed. major and cut way back on scholarships and then thought that the rest of the SEC would do the same. Then after a mild "restoration" from about 1970-1981 there were the scandals in multiple sports that resulted in the approach which they adopted in 1986 or so of keeping sports in Div. 1 but also on a tight leash. Also, Tulane has always spent peanuts on football and will continue to do so. The Hullabaloo actually called the administration out on the recent statement that they had dramatically increased the football for the coming year. The truth is that they had in fact done no such thing.

Clay said...

The article about the founding members of the SEC mentions the trouble with the P.E. major.

One of the scandals in the late 80's was the Hot Rod Williams point shaving scandal: