Recently, a friend from another country and I were in a discussion about college and he commented that the attention given to sports is uniquely American. I have to take his word for it because I have no idea if a college in Spain or Greece has an official team in any sport. Frankly, I’m not even sure I care. In The United States, a sports team is an important part of the college experience.
Football is king at Alabama. It always has been and always will be. However, last year the Tide won national championships in four different sports. This is important because the recent national attention earned by football and other programs has helped the University to new levels of success on and off the field of play.
In recent years, the campus in Tuscaloosa has grown tremendously due to the influx of new money to the school. The growth is not limited to stadium expansion or the new weight room. Alumni from the pre-iPod era may not even recognize the area between Ferguson Center and the river. New academic buildings have emerged to accommodate a growing student body. Although not all of the growth on campus can be attributed to athletics, much of it can.
The University of Alabama has doubled the size of its student body in recent years and attracted a slim majority of students from other states. While the focus of the administration has been to reach out and recruit the best and brightest students, and they have done a fantastic job, the success of college sports at Alabama has helped in that effort.
A strong athletics department is good public relations. When the school is on television and successful in a variety of endeavors, students from around the nation see the campus and are attracted to a winning tradition. That ESPN highlight reel may not directly cause Alabama to be a perennial leader in attracting scholars, but the attention given to the school certainly helps imprint a sense of brand awareness in the minds of high school seniors struggling to decide where to pursue a degree.
Cynics will ponder, for their own amusement, whether college sports are a positive or negative influence in this country. To millions of people, college football is the greatest sport in the world. Let the people who are paid to be negative say what they will, but there is a reason college football attracts millions of fans.
Spring practice begins on Saturday. While you are thinking about the greatest sport, say a prayer or two for Athletics Director Mal Moore who is undergoing tests for a pulmonary condition. His work as an advocate for the University of Alabama has played an important role in getting the school where it is today, athletically and academically.
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