I've been musing on something for awhile now that I thought I'd share. Maybe I can scrounge up some discussion. The question has always plagued me: "Why can't we be successful at football?" I've heard answers bandied about, such as location (LA, Party town, beach, etc.), weather (makes kids lazy?), academic challenges (being a highly rated university), poor coaching, poor staff continuity, poor talent, etc. etc. etc.
The one that stuck in my craw (what is a craw exactly?) was the problem posed by our administration. Not necessarily the physical administrators themselves (although that is part of the problem), but the UCLA "establishment" in general.
Imagine if you will, that you're trying to coach and build a program at UCLA. You face some serious hurdles right out the gate. Firstly, you lack a stadium anywhere near campus. Compound that with the general malaise of Los Angeles fans in general, and UCLA students in large part, and you have a tough crowd. Now add in the fact that your practice field is not even 100 yards, and you lack plenty of the amenities located at the major football powers. Throw in a high cost of living, lack of a budget to hire quality assistant coaches, and the worldwide perception of your school as a "basketball school." Finally, you add the academic restrictions on your recruiting, cutting the pool of talent available to you in half, yet making it no easier to recruit those same athletes. But there is an even bigger hurdle to face. You are at a public institution, specifically one who is in the state of California, a state with perrenial fiscal problems. You recieve funding from boosters, but much of your income comes from the state of California. You are not attached to a nationwide network of donors and boosters (or CEOs) who pump billions into your university. Instead, your university uses those funds it does recieve for research, medical advancement, graduate studies, new academic facilities, etc. You lack the funding to turn your high quality athletic facilities into top tier facilities to attract recruits, and to turn your practice field into something resembling a football field.
What is the result? You are in a pantheon of successful academic bastions that are public schools, yet underacheive at football. Among your notable members are the University of Washington, Cal Berkeley, the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan, North Carolina, University of Maryland, Clemson University, Texas A&M, etc etc etc. Good luck.
Now I know what you're thinking. "Michigan?? Texas A&M? UW? CAL? They've had tons of success! And you'd be right. But only in certain spurts. Michigan has probably the most football tradition on this list, but certainly their performance of late has been terrible. Texas A&M is in a world of hurt right now. Sure they've been to bowl games, but they haven't won their conference since 1998, and they're 1-5 in bowl games in the last 10 years. UW? Two seasons removed from going winless. Cal hasn't been to the Rose Bowl in 50 years. So while these schools may have achieved in spurts, they lack long term success of programs like Penn State, Alabama, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas, (begrudgingly) the Hated Ones, Stanford, Notre Dame, Florida, Florida State, Ohio State, Georgia etc. What is the common denominator? With the exception of Penn State (and maybe UT) all of those schools that are public universities are mediocre academic institutions, and the rest are private schools. RICH private schools. Notre Dame, Stanford, U$C, all have massive endowments.
What to make of this? I know i'm not breaking serious ground by stating that having tougher academics makes success at football harder. But there are schools that can do it. Notre Dame (I accept the Weis era somewhat challenges my placing them here), Stanford, Penn State, Texas all have good academics and football success. The problem lies, I believe, in our image, and our collective insecurity. Allow me to elaborate. UCLA seems extremely preoccupied with maintaining its image as a premier university (a goal I wholly support), yet in order to do this, it completely ignores football as a means of exposing itself to the world, and indeed, gaining credibility and popularity. UCLA is so concerned with 'players getting into trouble' or 'bad students getting on the football team' that they'd rather tighten the ship and lose at football. I believe this is a mistake. Look for example, at Oregon. Not a stellar academic bastion, to be sure, but how much money has their football team made? How much of that contributes to new academic buildings, tutoring, improvements on campus, scholarships to kids, etc? Probably quite a bit. Ohio State? Most profitable athletics university in the country. Texas? Football gives them so much money they probably have a Scrooge McDuck vault for Mack Brown to swim in. Alabama? Florida? These schools get so much publicity and likely so much money that it HAS to trickle down to the University.
Now about those troublemakers? Well studies have shown athletes (especially football players) are some of the most dishonest people in schools today. It seems to me we hired Karl Dorrell to whip our kids into good, gentlemanly shape. So what happened with Justin Medlock? Rick Neuheisal is on a short leash, but we still had the Genius Backpack Trio, dozens of academic casualties, etc. This. Happens. Everywhere. At least our kids don't cheat/rape/take money (see: U$C), but every school has its share of academic and personal issues when you're dealing with Athletes.
My point? We need to suck it up. As a school, as a program, we need to realize that we are MISSING THE BOAT. UCLA could be excellent at football, but it doesn't care to be. It would rather circle the wagons and be the laughingstock of the Southern California football community, just to protect its image. Really? I'm not saying we turn into Miami or the Trojans. Stanford can run a clean ship. So can Ohio State, Penn State, etc. This can be done. With more success comes more alumni support, more TV contracts, more MONEY for the things UCLA, in cash starved california, desperately needs. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.