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A Brief Matter of Perspective

The blogosphere has been faced with an interesting question recently, "When is it okay for Texas fans to root against Texas?"  The answer, fortunately, is quite simple.  Supporting a college team is fundamentally different from supporting a pro team.  You're either supporting the young men on the field, and symbolically the school itself, or you're not. [1]

Supporting Belmont Hall is something else entirely, and it's a distinction with a difference.  So to those fans here and elsewhere so tired of replacing televisions because you reflexively attack them with a claw hammer when you see a bubble screen for -1 yard that you're plotting grand schemes, I come in peace.  Now, allow me to retort.[2]

Being a Texas fan over the last decade has been easy, but it hasn't been cheap.  Mack Brown and his assistants are among the highest paid coaches in sports, and the Longhorn Foundation has covered the tab thanks its eager donors.  Texas, perhaps more so than any other school, has professionalized the fan base (even as the players remain amateurs) simply through the cost of entry.[3]  While Texas fans are made to feel like stockholders in Texas, Inc. in order to buy tickets, only a very few have the privilege of being treated as such by Belmont - those whose donations are no more readily replaced than the buildings named after them.  That said, at Texas, even the mega-boosters have less control than they might elsewhere, simply because the University is blessed with so many of them.

As the fan base has been professionalized, the trappings associated with being a fan of a professional team have come along with for the ride. However, for better or worse, losing college teams aren't rewarded with better draft positions and the fans can't count on an owner who drops losing coaches without pity or remorse.  The familiar things fans of professional teams cling to even in the worst of seasons offer no succor here, and sometimes we wish they did. Ultimately, some may find being the fan of a college team is a bit simpler, and a bit more frustrating than being a fan of a professional team. 

Being a fan of a college team is simple because we only get to watch a group of players for four years, and then we don't have the privilege of seeing young men such as Sam Acho, Eddie Jones and Curtis Brown play in burnt orange again.  I've been called an idealistic cynic, but I'd like to believe that part of the enjoyment anyone who calls himself or herself a Longhorn fan derives from the program comes from the players having a healthy, productive, and fun tenure with the program and then going to the next stage of their lives.[2]  At worst, I expect that fans are comforted by the notion that even a Longhorn piñata will eventually graduate.  Now, perhaps more than ever, it is important to separate administrative and program level decisions from players who don't have any more say in the matter than we do.

Being a Texas fan can be frustrating because we know more about the future and inner workings of the famously secretive New England Patriots than what goes on inside of Belmont Hall.  Remember when UT was going to the Pac-16 in a multi-billion dollar deal covered by every sports network and Chip Brown was being hailed as Nostradamus?  Fun times.  Whereas we have a nearly ironclad certainty about the players, the job security, duties, and decisions of the coaches are subject to rampant and sometimes irresponsible speculation.  Strange metrics are established by fans as signs of substantially certain outcomes, e.g. "Texas beating the Aggies will save Greg Davis' job unless Will Muschamp's defense scores the only points in a shutout, then he's gone for sure".  Of course, this presupposes that the outcome of the game actually has any bearing on the job security of anyone.  The relevant folks could easily have decided to fire someone before the UCLA game,[5] or the decision could have been made that any coaching staff coming off an MNC gets a mulligan even if they go 0-14.  Belmont under Dodds' tenure is very, very good at keeping secrets - even potentially shattering ones.

To those suggesting withdrawing support from the team in order to ensure a coaching change, I ask that you bear something in mind.  Rooting against your own team in college is taking a very simple thing, a thing you can control - your support of the team - and perverting it for an uncertain outcome like a hypothetical coaching change.  Granted, as a fan, you're limited in what you can control and how your voice can be heard.  But if you're upset with Belmont hall, the coaching, or how your money is being spent then tell them.  Letters from donors and fans (please be respectful if you do this), checks redirected to the University (which is a facing a dramatic and rapid budget cut) or scholarships and other direct messages will do more good than hoping that a tenacious group of seniors ends their careers with a loss. These are our Longhorn football players, so let's be proud of them and support them "'til Gabriel blows his horn".



[1]  I do not mean to pick out individual posters here or elsewhere but this sentiment isn't exactly uncommon right now.  That said, I can't imagine any of the people voicing it would look Sam Acho in the eye and say "I hope you lose to A&M as a Senior because it's part of my imaginary Rube Goldberg plot to get Greg Davis fired."  If you would, please explain in the comments.

[2] The draft title to this post was "What does Eddie Jones look like?"

[3] Without a doubt, success draws the support of NFL fans who often have a different worldview, but when fans who invest as much money and passion in their team as Longhorn fans do, they expect a return on investment.  I think we can safely assume that the powers that be are acutely aware of this.

[4] I can, with some effort, understand why someone would think that it would be better for future generations of players for a team to be in a situation so dire that the college administration would have no choice to act in the face of some dire malpractice on the part of the coaching staff.  I cannot quite understand why it would take such an atrocity to motivate the folks in charge, who are interested in making money and consequently winning football games.

[5] All together now, getting it out of your system is healthy: "That would explain a lot".


Addendum: Some interesting points have been made in the comments, and it seemed more efficient to write here rather than to pepper the threads with my own thoughts.  I think many are putting too much faith in uncertain causality like a bowl game or a loss to a hated rival forcing "needed change". (As I side note, I believe change is needed, but that belief doesn't influence the quality of my argument).  If you truly believe the rot is so bad throughout the system that only dire circumstances can force a necessary change, then you've got much bigger concerns about the direction of the program, and indeed the University, than mere football coaches