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Academic Rankings and Athletic Success...

...while I hesitate to distract anyone from the release of The Eyes of Texas 2009, I had to comment on a personal anecdote involving a school's academics.  While previous posts have cursorily discussed UT's place in the US News "Best Colleges" Rankings, especially during the McFarland/Evans hatchet job, I want to highlight this anecdote as a vehicle to further explore the relationship between academic prestige and athletic prowess.  With the new US News rankings only a few weeks away, this seemed like a good time to discuss the proper contexts for crowing about athletic championships.

After the jump, I hope to prevent some of you from being "that guy" while also providing a platform to discuss whether academic prestige--or a lack thereof--should play a major role in discussing athletics.

The story is pretty simple.  Without providing too many details, I was placed in a group environment a few weeks ago with several other college students from across the country.  As we were making our introductions, which included our name and school, one student stood out.  Despite following an Ivy Leaguer--and students from several other prestigious colleges--the student smugly and proudly announced he attended the University of Tebow.  Honestly, I can't overstate how poorly the introduction came across.  The student later qualified his boasting by explaining "we win championships."  While the University of Florida remains a solid school on similar academic ground with UT, the cringe-inducing smugness of the statement dramatically cut against the reality of the various college degrees within the room. 

Perhaps the most frustrating question for any sports fan comes when someone asks "Why do you say 'we' for your team when you dont actually play on the team?"'  I'm going to purposely avoid answering that question in this article in favor of looking at a deeper concept.  When recounting this story to my girlfriend--who currently attends Virginia Law after graduating from William & Mary--she just shrugged her shoulders and invoked this deeper concept with her response. 

She said "I've never really understood why any college student--including you--would feel so attached to the athletics of their school.  The last thing I considered when applying to schools was athletics, and, while I always root for William & Mary and UVA, I care far more about the value of my degree than their record on the field.  Since the point of going to college is to get a degree, and subsequently use that degree to get a job, I've never understood why athletics should matter for a college.  And I especially dont understand someone bragging about their school's athletics when attempting to inflate the importance of their degree.  That may be selfish, but it's true.  But I know how deeply you care, and I respect that...I just dont get it."

Now, obviously, this isn't a ground-breaking idea, but I think it raises an interesting point of discussion.  There's no exact formula for why students select a college, and everyone makes independent decisions based on an unlimited number of independent factors.  Additionally, rankings widely differentiate between different colleges within a singular University.  However, with its in-state tuition, the Top 10% rule, and last year's #47 US News Ranking, I'll defend the decision of any Texas high-schooler to attend UT to my grave.  I wouldn't trade my first six years at UT for anything, and I couldn't be happier with the education I've received as an undergraduate and graduate student.  While I agree that being a fan of a football team shouldn't solely prompt someone's college decision, I cannot pretend that my family's extensive connections to UT didn't lead to my youthful proclamations of wanting to become a Longhorn.  In that sense, I'm quite glad my family didn't go to Texas Tech.  On a side note, "Get your Guns Up?  Nah, get your grades up and go to a real school" remains my favorite dig towards any non-OU opponent.

In any case, once a student has made their college decision, the question remains: should the gridiron/hardwood/diamond success of their school justify invoking braggadocio in a professional or academic environment among strangers?  Ultimately, I think the seamless blending of athletics and academics remains justifiable, but it largely remains audience dependent.