on March 1, 2008 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Clemson football should be held to higher standards

With the exception of North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, UCLA and a few others, football is the engine that drives the athletic programs of most Division I universities — both from a financial standpoint and in the hearts and minds of fans.

No matter how weary football coaches may become of such scrutiny and, especially criticism, from fans regarding their team’s gridiron fortunes, there is no doubt that football at many schools is held to a higher standard.

Clemson is no different, as evidenced by fan support of other athletic programs and the passion displayed when football is or isn’t successful in comparison.

When the Clemson men’s basketball team recently lost a winnable contest at Florida State, some criticism was levied that said, to the effect, that Clemson fans are more tolerant of basketball missteps than football. The Tigers gridiron loss to a horrible Duke squad in 2004 — one week after upsetting Miami in the Orange Bowl — and the negative reaction of fans subsequently thereafter is often cited as a prime example.

Fairly or unfairly, other athletic programs at Clemson are not judged as harshly as the Clemson football program and there are several reasons: the other sports are not the cash cow that football is when it comes to generating revenue, evidenced by the absurdedly high costs that escalate each year for season tickets; the head coach in other sports isn’t making more than a million dollars a year despite no conference championships; and college football itself is followed by a more passionate fan base than other sports.

After all, when you think of Ohio State, Michigan, Southern Cal and Notre Dame, you think of football. Therefore, it isn’t a stretch of the imagination to assume that their fans are upset more by a loss on the gridiron, than they are on the hardwood. The higher the expectation level for football, the higher the elation or disappointment.

That is the most significant reason why Clemson football is judged so closely and, perhaps, unfairly. The bar has been set so high, including 13 ACC championships, 2 Southern Conference Championships and the Danny Ford years that produced 96 wins and a national championship in 11 seasons, that anything less is unacceptable to most fans.

Since 1896, the inaugural year of Clemson football, the Tigers have posted an overall record of 625-426-45, with a 15-15 bowl record. Also consider the Tigers have gone bowlin’ 20 times in the past 26 years.

Meanwhile, the Clemson men’s basketball program entered the 2007-08 season with a career sub .500 record of 1,091-1,146-2 and a career ACC mark of 387-710. The Tigers have won only one ACC title, that being the 1990 regular season, and no ACC tournament championships in their 55 years in the league.

Also consider that the Clemson men’s team has never defeated North Carolina at Chapel Hill and only one hand is required to count the number of times they have beaten Duke in Durham. In fact, Clemson has a 1-16 career mark at Wake Forest’s Lawrence Joel Coliseum — including 16 consecutive losses since winning its inaugural contest there in 1990. Fortunately, the Tigers didn’t have to play there this season.

That is the type of mountain head basketball coach Oliver Purnell and his predecessors have tried to climb while attempting to get the Tigers hoops program over the hump. Unlike the football program, where the ride has been a roller coaster of highs and lows in recent years, the basketball program has improved in wins every year since Purnell’s arrival.

Considering that this program has only received 21 postseason tournament bids since its first in 1975 — including six to the NCAA Tournament — it isn’t hard to understand why any success is viewed with a high level of excitement.

Of course, if the basketball program fails to make the NCAA Tournament this year — as was the case a year ago — Purnell and his players will undoubtedly face some criticism. But the fact that this team now has 20 wins, something that has occurred only eight times in the program’s nearly 100 years of existence, shows just how starved for success fans are and how they are much more appreciative of any type that comes their way.

I would even argue that the Clemson women’s basketball team, though only in existence for a little more than 30 years, and despite its floundering fortunes of the past several years, has enjoyed a higher standard of success than their male counterparts. After all, the women have enjoyed 25 winning seasons, 18 with 20 or more wins, and two ACC Tournament championships and more NCAA Tournament appearances — 14 — under former coach Jim Davis alone.

Don’t even ask me to compare the success of the Clemson baseball program to basketball, considering that the Tigers enter the 2008 season with 21 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances — the third longest streak in NCAA history — a 20-year streak of being ranked in at least one pre-season poll and 11 College World Series appearances.

The men’s and women’s soccer programs have even enjoyed more success than basketball — with the men’s team having won two NCAA championships under I.M. Ibrahim in the 1980s and a Final Four appearance under current coach Trevor Adair several years ago. The women’s soccer program, though in existence a little more than a decade, is also an annual NCAA tourney participant.

But none of the successes enjoyed by the other sports, though welcomed enthusiastically by Tiger fans when they occur, come close to matching the level of excitement that comes with Clemson football. There are very few Tiger fans that can honestly say they wouldn’t trade success in any other sport for a win against Boston College last fall and the opportunity to at least have played in the ACC football title game.

This isn’t a knock against the Olympic sports. But football is a different animal, with the intense spotlight that ESPN and other major networks beam on college campuses each fall — coupled with the fact that The Ol’ Ball Coach and his championship pedigree guides rival South Carolina a little more than two hours down the road.

Like it or not, Clemson football will always be the fair haired child to a rabid fan base that follows recruiting, purchases pre-season magazines and shells out hard-earned dollars for season tickets in the hopes of a BCS Bowl reward.

Clemson fans need not be criticized for having high expectations for this program. After all, they have a coach making millions of dollars who has finally received the state-of-the-art athletic facilities for which he has long craved, a recruiting class ranked as high as number two in the nation by ESPN and a team on the precipice of a BCS bowl bid the past two seasons.

Although the team may never again win a national championship or even appear in a BCS bowl, you can be sure high expectations for this program will continue and, with it, intense fan criticism for any shortcomings.