Saturday, December 04, 2010

Tulane, Athletics, and Priorities

For the past two days, the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper has run two letters to the editor from supposed fans and alumni of Tulane University regarding the University's decision to extend the contract of head football coach Bob Toledo, in spite of four seasons of a losing record. I'm gonna get to the content of each of these letters in a bit, but I want to preface my "fisking" of these letter with a few introductory comments. First, full disclosure: Although I have zero connection today to the Tulane Department of Athletics, I am employed by Tulane University as a professor/administrator. Second, I am a Tulane Alum. I attended Tulane as an undergraduate for my Freshman year as a Dean's Honor Scholarship recipient. (Note: I transferred to Georgetown University after my Freshman year simply because I wanted to attend college away from home.) But I then returned to Tulane for graduate school, where I earned both my MA and Ph.D. degrees. Third, and perhaps most importantly for this discussion, I am a varsity letterman and athletic scholarship recipient in Track and Field at Tulane (back in the day when Tulane had a Men's Track & Field program. (Yes, yes, I gave up both the academic scholarship and the athletic scholarship to transfer to Georgetown. Although my dad nearly choked when I made this decision, there is no doubt in my mind today that it was the right decision. And my dad has come to see it this way, too.) So, I think I can safely say that I'm pretty invested in Tulane in more ways than one and I've earned the right to fire back at these letter writers. Now that I've tipped my hand, let's get right down to it...

Yes, I take a dim view of what these letter writers had to say. Here's the first of the two in its entirety:

Why is Tulane extending the contract of a football coach who, after four years, is only averaging about three wins per season? This is ridiculous.

If the Tulane administration does not care about athletics any longer, then just man up and say it publicly!

The administration should not insult the intelligence of the Tulane alumni. Their ability to lead Tulane University is now in serious question among the Tulane alumni.

Do not respond to me with more excuses, and please do not fall back on the Katrina situation as an excuse. It's been five years, and it is time to move on from that.

For the first time in my life, I am ashamed of being a Tulane alum. I am sure that my father (a 1950 graduate and World War II veteran), would feel the same if he were alive today.

Antoine "Pete" Madere
Baton Rouge
What can I say to this? There's so much to unpack here. First off, given how difficult it is to recruit and field a competitive division one football team at Tulane, four years is barely enough time to build a program. Give the guy four more years and then see what happens. For this letter writer to think that anyone can come in and turn around a program like Tulane's in four short years is succumbing to the absurd attitude that drives opinion about elite football programs like LSU. When it comes to football culture (and the corresponding fan culture), Tulane is not like LSU. And I say "Thank God!" for that. In fact, I'd wager that what Tulane needs in order to develop a solid football program is some longer-term stability. Firing a coach every 3-4 years is probably the worst thing that a place like Tulane can do to build up its football program.

The rest of the letter that talks about insulting the intelligence of Tulane alumni or about measuring the value of Tulane's leadership to run a first-rate University (and last I checked a University's primary mission is an ACADEMIC one!) says more about the letter writer than it does about Tulane. And the very last thought the letter writer leaves us tells us everything we need to know about this letter writer. Really, think about it: this guy is ashamed of being a Tulane alum because of the administration's decision not to fire a football coach. If the measure of this guy's pride in Tulane is wrapped up in a friggin' football thing, then he would have been better off going to LSU. What does Mr. Madere have to say about, you know, the EDUCATION he received from Tulane? What about Tulane's impressive graduation rate for its current athletes? Is there no pride in that? Furthermore, what about the many superlative aspects of the University that have nothing to do with athletics? Can't this dude find something redeeming about his Alma Mater in something other than a sport? I'll tell you, as someone educated by Tulane and as a former Tulane Athlete, what makes me ashamed is that there are alumni like Mr. Madere who calculate the measure of Tulane's excellence by the record of its football team.

Turning to the other letter...
Re: "Toledo stays on as Wave coach," Sports, Dec. 1.

I used to be a mainstay at Tulane baseball games. I don't even go anymore. I used to drive out all the way from Kenner midweek with my daughter on a school night to watch bad basketball at Fogelman Arena, never missing a game. I don't even bother anymore.

I haven't missed a football home game since 1996. That streak ends.

Tulane athletics is a non-event in our own hometown. Identifying yourself as a Tulane supporter by wearing gear in public will actually draw laughs. I challenge Scott Cowen and Rick Dickson to get out of their cocoons and try it some time. That deplorable situation sits squarely in their laps.

Tulane football used to be a vibrant part of our city. It is now a laughingstock. The leadership has done nothing but encourage further decline with decisions like the coaching decision made and announced late Wednesday.

Jason T. Liuzza
Tulane Class of 1993
Now while Mr. Liuzza at least keeps his criticisms of Tulane focused on what he sees as the decline of Tulane athletics, and doesn't generalize this as a commentary on the University as a whole, his emphasis on athletics still conveys the notion that what he values about Tulane (and, by extension, what he thinks the rest of us in New Orleans value about Tulane) is its athletics. I can tell Mr. Liuzza that when most people from the community see someone wearing Tulane "gear" in public, they neither laugh nor ridicule. Instead, many of them (in fact, most of them, I'd say) think of Tulane students, faculty, and staff as critical resources for the community. Most people see in the Tulane brand things like ESL classes, after-school tutors for the city's urban youth, social entrepreneurship, coastal restoration work, community health clinics, etc. They see the sign of a civically-engaged, top-notch research and knowledge-generating institution.

As a Tulane alumnus and a former Tulane athlete myself, my advice to Mr. Madere and Mr. Liuzza is that they get their priorities straight and stop measuring the value of Tulane by its athletics.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ouch, nice!

Priorities fellas.