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Watching the Watchmen: The Sad Story of UT Basketball

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Two weeks from today, Texas will have vanquished an overmatched opponent in front of thousands of fans.  And I'm not talking about Baylor.  While it seems like only yesterday that BON'ers were saying "TOO SOON" about talking about UT Basketball, the reality is that tip-off is nearly upon us.  In only two short weeks, Rick Barnes and company will have thoroughly and soundly defeated the Anteaters of UC-Irvine at the Erwin Center.

Despite promises and guarantees to the contrary, no Stampede tickets have been sold for the game.  The e-mail was *supposed* to come out last Monday.  But it didnt.  The e-mail was supposed to come out on Tuesday.  But it didnt.  The e-mail was supposed to come out "by the end of the week."  But it didnt.  As I sit here and type this post tonight, I'm still unable to purchase a Stampede pass for my final year on the Forty Acres. 

While some of you will merely repeat the often stated "Texas is a FOOTBALL school" line and shrug your shoulders about this, that's the exact type of attitude that allowed this inaction to occur in the first place.  The idea that student season tickets for football would be unsold less than two weeks prior to kickoff is simply inconceivable.  I feel the same way about this delay for the Stampede tickets. For those of you who contacted me about this--I feel your pain, and this isnt ok. 

But this isnt just a post about the Stampede.  It's a post about how the Stampede e-mail situation simply represents the latest step in an impotent offseason of marketing the upcoming basketball season.  Once again, this isn't ok.

This e-mail, which I received on Friday, represents the entire UT Basketball off-season in a nutshell.

I keep hearing this is the "best recruiting class ever" and I said "where are you hearing these things?" because I really haven’t heard any news other than Jai Lucas and the J'Covan (however you spell it) kid. For those of us who don’t listen to sports radio all the time, there is NO news about the team anywhere! Stupid.

Some of my friends have been far less charitable over describing the lack of news over the team.  Let me reiterate that, as of right now, students are unable to buy student season tickets for basketball.   For a point of comparison, last year's Stampede e-mail went out on October 8th.  And yet, here we are in November, and no one at the Box Office can give a straight answer over what's going on.  A systemic breakdown has occurred, and, in the fourth year of the system, it shouldnt be this hard. 

Less I be mistaken, I dont mean to suggest this offseason would have been all sunshine and puppy dogs if the Stampede e-mail would have been sent out four weeks ago.  The delay over the e-mail this year has served as a catalyst to expose the fecklessness of the entire promotional scheme over UT Basketball.  While the e-mail itself didnt make everything ok, the lack of an e-mail has spotlighted the fact that NOTHING has happened towards marketing this team to the campus.  That key fact remains the central thrust of this post.

For the diehards, we'll be there regardless, but I've been polling students about their knowledge of basketball right now.  As of now, the average UT student has absolutely no idea about two key items:

1) The season starts in two weeks

2) This will be THE storybook season for UT Basketball

That's not good.  And even though Texas is a "football school," this doesnt mean that all efforts to drum up support for basketball during the Fall Semester should be abandoned..  Especially not this season.  Just like the new $100 million dollar movie, "This Is It" for UT Basketball.  And, if you were going to market this team, there is no shortage of possibilities:

1) Dexter is officially a "star" around campus.  He's the biggest non-football star on campus, and he's probably the third most "recognizable" athlete on campus, behind only Colt and Shipley. 

2) While not on the level of Dexter, Damion James and Justin Mason are longtime stalwarts of the program who are pretty well-known.

3) In case you haven't heard, we have a pretty good recruiting class coming in.

In fact, considering that Texas is a football school, it would seem to be pretty important to build momentum for this storybook season before it starts, using any of the paint-by-numbers methods listed above.  Instead, there has been NOTHING.  Absolutely nothing.  Nothing about Pittman.  Nothing about the other seniors.  Nothing about any of the recruits.  There has been nothing.  And that's not ok.

What's even more frustrating is the utter lack of creativity relating to any type of student promotions, prizes, giveaways, incentives, etc.  I've previously criticized the Varsity Rewards Program, but the problems run even deeper.  The idea that wristbands and Crocs will encourage students to go to games is laughable, but the more frustrating concepts relate to the ideas and promotions that arent even on the table.

For example, Texas has a major non-conference showdown against UNC on December 19th.  I see tickets for this game advertised on nearly every single day.  How hard would it be to slap together a promotion promising student tickets for that game--even for purchase--to all UT students who attend five non-conference basketball games during the Fall Semester?  How hard would it be to put together a trip package for students who want to attend the game in Dallas? 

Along those same lines, how hard would it be to milk the marquee games on the schedule for all they are worth?  A commenter last week asked if I thought the Stampede pass would be "worth the money."  I didnt get a chance to timely respond to the question, but the point should be hammered home to every student that the following teams will be coming to the Erwin Center--Michigan State, Kansas, Oklahoma.  The KU-UT clash could be the biggest regular season home game in the last decade.  The MSU game is probably in the top ten of the same list.  I would pay $50 for a ticket to either game, and I suspect many of you would do the same.  That means the Stampede pass pays for itself with only these two games.  These marquee games should be milked for all they are worth by the marketing department, in both the Stampede and individual student ticket sense.  And, by that, I dont mean they should be connected to attending a women's game against some directional school.

Some of you might say that putting together a program would cost money.  That's not in dispute.  But, when you consider that UT Athletics will sell 450 Stampede passes at $75 apiece, then suddenly a lot more options are put on the table.  Simple math shows the Stampede program generates nearly $35,000 to pump back into the program.  Besides receiving a t-shirt and being offered tons of stupid giveaways that I always refuse--I think I've turned down a straw hat each of the last six years--I have no idea where any this money is spent.  I'm not asking for a refund, but I do think the money could be creatively used to generate more interest in the program.  Based on this current offseason, I'm not holding my breath.

I could go on and on, but the point isn't what COULD happen as much as it is highlighting that NOTHING has happened.  And, as I keep repeating, that's not ok.

Conclusion: I know many of you will simply write off this post as a tree falling in the forest when no one is looking.  But I cannot sit idly by and pretend that this offseason of inaction and impotency is justifiable.  There needs to be accountability, and I hope the BON community will continue providing it.  Even if the e-mail goes out this morning, the delay needs to must be criticized and skewered.

It's a complete cop-out to simply say that Texas will never drum up sufficient interest for basketball.  That might be true, but that doesn't mean that there shouldn't be efforts to generate excitement for the season.  And that's exactly the type of attitude that has tacitly allowed this inaction to occur. 

More stuff about actual basketball to follow later this week...

Hook 'Em!