To Gene Block, Chianti Dan: The Role Of Football In University Fundraising

Interestingly, a photo search for Gene Block and UCLA Football yielded zero results.

There is plenty that we can say about Southern Cal - one of those things is that they know money. And while much of the time that comes out in the types of douchebagery and excess that we have come to expect from the trojans, the flip side is that they have gotten very good at raising lots of it. Their newly-announced fundraising campaign has set the goal of doubling the $3 Billion that UCLA raised in the last capital campaign, which ended in 2006. The new Southern Cal president acknowledges that setting a large fundraising goal in the current economic climate is a risky move, but believes that achieving this goal is worth the risk, and is willing to take ownership of that risk and the possibility of failure.

Nikias acknowledged that the goal, and the timing, could be risky. Nonetheless, he said, "I'm not afraid to take that risk because I believe in the strategies and I believe in the Trojan family. I know it is more pressure on me and the rest of us. But, hey, why not?"

Given the size and timing involved in announcing this fundraising initiative, even the fishwrap had to note the arrogance of Southern Cal. But to be fair, their leadership has set the goal of moving up in the academic world, identified at least one of the areas which need to be improved to achieve that goal, and are taking drastic, decisive action to work toward reaching that goal. In that process, their head man is glad to take the risk to his professional reputation (aside from that absorbed from running Southern Cal), and probably his long-term employment because of the need for action to improve Southern Cal's academic station.

Wouldn't it be nice if Dan Guerrero or his associates/lackeys in Morgan Center had a similar outlook on their profession and the athletic department that they operate. The recent football coaching search was just the latest example of a decade of playing it safe. Aside from the failed attempt to screw over the students in their seating arrangements in the renovated Pauley Pavilion, Guerrero and Co have done little to disturb the status quo and to build toward the future for UCLA Athletics. The plan and limited scope of the Pauley renovation (and mediocre fundraising to date for that project) will not age well into the coming decades, while thanks to a decade of Morgan Center inactivity, other schools in the Pac-12 and nationwide have surpassed UCLA's other athletic facilities. Sorry Dan, but taking credit for Pasadena's renovation of the Rose Bowl does not count.

While leading the Southern Cal fundraising effort, president Nikas uses the football program as one of his selling points to the alumni that he is pumping for money. Particularly with the wealthier alumni that he is personally handling in hopes of significant donations, he is using football games as part of the soft sell to prospective donors.

He says he spends about 80% of his time on some aspect of fundraising and personally handles all gifts of at least $5 million, courting potential donors during dinner parties and football games and trying to match their interests with campus needs.

While Chianti Dan has done little to boost the fortunes of the football program during his decade in command of Morgan Center, Gene Block likewise has shown little interest in football, or UCLA athletics generally. While no one is asking Chancellor Block to show up at tonight's game at Honda Center with a blue and gold painted chest jumping behind our bench (assuming that tonight's game will be televised in the Bay Area, I would beg Gene not to do this), I would ask him to give some attention to Bruin Athletics. Not just to show support for the Student-Athletes representing UCLA, but in recognition that many alumni have fond memories of Football, Basketball or the many other UCLA teams from their time in Westwood.

For many of us, the Bruins on the field and on the court comprise much of our current linkage to the university. Chancellor Block not only needs to acknowledge this reality, but take full advantage of it when cultivating relationships with the alumni of today, and in looking at the experience of current students and how that will affect their outlook on and links to the university when they become alumni. One of the Daily Bruin's writers published a story during the Fall talking about the social effect of sports on a community; arguing that even for people that are not fans of a sport - which was true of the author upon coming to Westwood, the experience can strengthen one's attachment to his/her community.

What can be called “the kitsch mythologies of sport” are now among our most powerful cultural narratives.

Germaine Greer is right when she says sport is the legitimate cultural expression – no institution like it can command comparable sums of money, demand the devotion of whole continents and harness to the ebb and flow of its games, at the same exact second, emotions that cover the globe.

... We all have things to do, but you are definitely missing out if you go all four years as a Bruin without losing yourself in the frenzy of a major UCLA football game, screaming the eight-clap in a crowd thousands-strong.

What my argument amounts to is that sports is a singular experience, with all the elevation of art and the democracy of the urban street. If you “don’t like” even a single sport, you need to take a minute to ask why ...

This cultural effect and the sense of community engendered by a team can happen when the team is good or bad - as someone who survived Lavin's final campaign and Howland's first year in Westwood, I know that to be true - but having a successful team helps. And while we outdid Southern Cal this Fall thanks to the Trogans again having to stay home this bowl season, the current state of the Bruins was not much better.

Despite playing in a bowl game located in the middle of UCLA's largest alumni base outside of LA County, on a weekend afternoon against a major conference foe, the Bruins played in front of just 29,878 people distributed tickets at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (the smallest crowd for that game since 2005's Utah/Georgia Tech matchup). The on-field struggles of the football team didn't help raise the level of excitement, but with the off-field and administrative issues that have infected the football program and UCLA Athletics as a whole, you really can't blame folks for the lack of excitement or enthusiasm.

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