What will it take to keep Cincinnati relevant?

AndyVance's picture
December 7, 2012 at 2:11p
39 Comments

Yes, this happened...The University of Cincinnati is a fascinating study of college football at the mid-major level. After a string of relatively successful seasons, predicated by a string of three successful head coaches, the school is once again dealing with the pains of losing its chief play caller to a bigger, better program.

Mark Dantonio, of course, started the trend toward creating a perception of UC as both a real player in the college football conversation and as a good stepping-stone program for coaching talent. Dantonio was the first coach in 23 years to lead the school to a winning season in his first year, going 7-5 in 2004. He led the team during the school's move into the Big East, took the team to two bowl games in three seasons, going 7-5 in 2004 and 2006.

He was promptly gobbled up by Michigan State, where as we know, he coaches yet today.

Following Dantonio was Brian Kelly, called up from Central Michigan after winning the MAC in 2006. Kelly did even better at UC than did Dantonio, finishing 34-6 in four seasons, winning the (yawn) Big East twice and playing in four Bowl Games, including two BCS appearances (which the team lost). During his tenure at UC, Kelly's Bearcats finished ranked in the AP poll three of four years, something else Dantonio's teams failed to do (note, this is not a Kelly > Dantonio comment, as much of Kelly's success was predicated on the rebuilding Dantonio did during his run).

He was promptly gobbled up by Notre Dame, where he coaches the most amazing team (aside from Alabama) and the most amazing player (aside from Johnny Football) in the known universe. </sarcasm>

Leading us to the most recent UC defector, Butch Jones. Jones, who followed Kelly at both Central Michigan and UC, went 23-14 in three seasons, winning the Big East crown twice and going to two Bowl Games, including a victorious outing in last season's Liberty Bowl. His victory over SEC school Vanderbilt (hey, they ain't Kentucky) was coupled with being named 2011 Big East Coach of the Year.

He was promptly gobbled up by a troubled University of Tennessee. Rocky Top has certainly seen a rocky stretch, and the school needed a big "get" in the silly season to right a sinking ship. Butch's ability to do that remains to be seen - his resume isn't quite as strong as Kelly's, so I don't know if anyone expects the big orange machine to be vying for a national title in three years, but anything's possible.

Cincinnati, meanwhile, is at a turning point. After being a dominant player in the now-on-life-support Big East (the Bearcats won at least a share of the conference title four out of the past five years), the school is making a run at joining the "we're not one of the Big 4 conferences, but we're really close" ACC. Joining a better conference is not a bad move, considering the Bearcats have probably exhausted their upward mobility in a struggling conference better known for basketball than for pigskin prowess. (Although it appears that Louisville's move into the Atlantic Coast Conference may have slammed the doors on an entrance by the Bearcats, unless the conference opts to go bigger, perhaps considering UConn or UC.)

Two big issues appear to be keeping UC from keeping coaches for more than the three seasons needed to catapult themselves to a top-tier program: money and facilities, which are in reality sides of the same coin.

The facilities issues are easy and obvious to understand:

There's also a lot of work to do on the athletic facilities, with little money available.

 

During Jones' tenure, Cincinnati expanded its football facility, adding a practice field with a protective bubble for bad weather. The school is trying to figure out how to upgrade 35,000-seat Nippert Stadium, which is the second-oldest playing site in the nation for a college team behind Penn's Franklin Field. Nippert has been in use since 1901.

Despite their Big East success, the Bearcats have played in front of disappointing crowds at Nippert. They drew only 21,171 fans on senior night — their smallest crowd of the season — for a 27-10 win over South Florida this year.

Nippert and the UC fanbase are problematic - if you can't get butts in the seats, you can't do a lot of things you need to do to stay competitive at the highest levels of college football. Similarly, five-star recruits don't want to spend their days in sub-par training and practice facilities when there are plenty of big-time programs spending millions upon millions to offer professional-grade (or better) athletic facilities.

Coaching salaries are the other big issue leading coaches to greener pastures. As I discussed earlier this week, schools are spending more money to attract better talent, understanding that there is a correlation with trading up and winning games.

In three seasons at UC, Jones averaged $1.42 million in compensation. UC football earned the athletic program $13.4 million on an investment of $11.2 million. As we also discussed, spending on assistant coaches make as much or more of a difference in football program performance as does spending on the head coach. UC spent $1.5 million on Jones' staff in 2011.

By comparison, former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley earned an average of $2.1 million over his three seasons with the Volunteers, and his staff earned an aggregate $3.2 million in 2011 - more than double what Cincinnati spent on its assistant coaching staff. Kelly and Dantonio likewise earned significantly more money and had a significantly larger payroll for staff in moving to the Irish and Spartans locker rooms.

Can the Bearcats come up with enough cash to make a dent in their facilities deficiencies and upgrade their coaching payroll? It's doubtful. With an overall athletic budget last year of $43.6 million, the Bearcats football expenditures are already nearly a quarter of the budget, and though the program operated in the black, it only turned an athletic gain of $2.2 million to the department.

As with most things, a cycle of sorts plays out here: spending more money to upgrade facilities and coaching talent will likely net better players, and coaching longevity will net better and better on-field performance in a potentially better conference that will net more and more money in ticket sales, licensing revenues and television rights. In other words "if you build it, they will come."

Of course, you've got to bite the bullet and build it first.

Comments

AndyVance's picture

On the other hand, evidence here and here seems to indicate an openness to the ladies of UC doing their part to help the cause...

jthiel09's picture

Wouldn't hurt, student attendance would go up almost immediately. 

JT

AndyVance's picture

Well, the other cheerleaders in Cincinnati seem to be the ones with problems linked to inappropriate states of undress...

BED's picture

Keep them relevant?  Winning the Big LEast doesn't make a team relevant in the CFB world.  Just ask West Virginia.

The Ohio State University, College of Arts & Sciences, Class of 2006
The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, Class of 2009

AndyVance's picture

Point... shall we say "relevant, relatively speaking?"

toad1204's picture

Only way to keep them semi-relevent at this point is for the ACC or BIG 12 to extend membership as the Big East fades into mediocrity.  Although the Big 12 is far fetched and the ACC (IMO) would need to lose another team the increased media revenue should be more than sufficient for the improvements.  If I could find the article referencing the fan base numbers I'd take a long hard look at it to justify the addition of UC to either of the two conferences vs a UConn or other.   Also the abuttment to IU, tOSU, and UK  in the tristate cant help the expansion of a media audience.
Finally anyone who has spent some time on their campus can tell you it is struggling with neighborhood issues as it is one of the most dangerous campuses in the country.  Although I could see this changing in the next 5-10 as OTR revitalization efforts continue to push north right now I'd find it hard to impress a recruit with the area.

Nothing like dancing on the field in 02... 

AndyVance's picture

Ask and ye shall receive... The article you're talking about is Nate Silver's analysis of conference expansion targets from last season. Dated Sept. 19, 2011, the data doesn't reflect the current conference alignment situation, but does give us an idea of how the Bearcats would fit in for either the ACC of Big 12 (which I think is a much tougher sell).
Here's the Big East, where Cincy unfortunately is back of the pack, but marginally stronger than geographical rival Louisville:

And how here's the ACC, where the 'Cats would still be at the back of the pack, still marginally better than Louisville and more than double the fanbase of barely-breathing Wake Forest:

Wisely, the Big Ten and Big 12 poached the top two schools in the Big East for their expansion projects... I'm still unclear why the ACC tapped Louisville before Cincy, but I've not spent a great deal of time pondering the subject (for more on my thoughts re: expansion, read this).

hodge's picture

One thing to remember re: Silver's numbers, these illustrate that FSU's 2011 matchup vs. Oklahoma drew a record 84,000 fans.  According to Silver's projections, that means that more than one tenth of FSU's entire fanbase showed up for that game.  There's no way that's correct.  These numbers also say that FSU's fanbase is less than 1/20 of the entire state's population--and that's not accounting for the national brand that FSU draws.
Take these with a grain of salt.  Silver's numbers also indicate that Papa John's stadium's capacity--when full of UL fans--holds more than one sixth of their fans.  There's simply no way.
Market potential is the name of the game.  UC will always have to compete with OSU, and that makes getting ACC networks into Cincinnati harder than it is for them to get into Louisville, where the 'Cards are the top draw.

AndyVance's picture

Silver was pretty upfront about the guesswork involved in his methodology (if you read the whole article, that is). My gut tells me the numbers may be fuzzy, but the basic rankings are solid enough.
Your observations on Cincy's market challenges are spot-on, though. Applies double in roundball, too.

hodge's picture

Yeah, I've read that article many a-time.  I've probably made a derivative of that comment about ten-plus times on here, I just like to reference it because a lot of people see it as concrete figures--of which they're nowhere near.  You're right, it's a good, rough sketch--just a very rough one at that haha.

AndyVance's picture

People generally don't use good discernment when it comes to data... "it's on the internet, so it must be true!" Good on you for helping keep readers on the straight and narrow :)

tennbuckeye19's picture

Hire Mike Brown as AD.

toad1204's picture

I believe you mean anybody but Mike Brown.

Nothing like dancing on the field in 02... 

captain obvious's picture

Theres so much talent that comes out of Cincinnati plus the fact that UK struggles across the border gets them a ton of kids.

I'm a friend of thunder is it any wonder lightning strikes me

klfeck's picture

Kick the bungals out of town and take over their stadium so people don't have to go to the ghetto to sit in a 35,000 seat hole in the ground.

Kevin

OH!!!!!

Proud parent of a Senior at The Ohio State University

Bucksfan's picture

My dad is a season ticket holder at UC, and I complained to him that it was obvious that the crowd on senior night (which was a Friday night game) was visibly and audibly lousy.  Couldn't even hear them on the opening kickoff of the 2nd half, because half of the ones who showed had already left.  To be fair, it was a night game and really cold and the game ultimately didn't matter to their overall standing, so I suppose it makes sense as to why.  But it does emphasize the difference between UC and other big time college football programs, and it didn't surprise me that Butch Jones went off to greener pastures.
The fans have major complaints about ticket prices and things like that, and I try to explain to him that even at $75 a pop, Ohio State tickets are HARD TO GET.
The way I see it, the alumni just don't care enough as a collective.  It's a good town and there is pride with that university, but that doesn't translate to where it count$ regarding football.  You do a good job of outlining the cost of making that happen, and I don't think there is enough real interest.
(And your photo above looks altered)

AndyVance's picture

The $2 ticket thing was from the UC Facebook page, I think...

AndyVance's picture

Okay, that's funny... Not sure who photoshopped it before I found it (not me, in other words)... Glad you caught it!

Brutus Greyshield's picture

I don't think that whoever posted it in this form was trying to trick anyone. The left and right sides were likely cropped out when someone displayed it in a different online format. It was an accident that it ended up looking like tickets were 'FOR $2' instead of '2 FOR $20'.

Nick's picture

keeeeep? am I missing something are we talking about their basketball team in the early 1960s?

Buckeyes_Terrapins's picture

I mean…they're ranked #11 right now, so their basketball team in 2012 is actually relevant, and has been for several years now.

IBLEEDSCARLETANDGRAY's picture

As the saying goes, "you get what you pay for" Lack of facilities or substandard facilities catches up to you over time. Back when Miami (FL) was strong they had some of the worst facilities in the country. They still do and now look at them. UC will get worse no matter who coaches them without those facilities.
And those UC cheerleaders...whoa!

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

AngryWoody's picture

Nothing can keep Cincy relevant, because the fans don't care! If you're from Cincinnati you know that. I hear more people talk about the Reds during football season that I do about the Bearcats.

Our Honor Defend!

cplunk's picture

That's what I was going to say. I grew up in Cincy and watched Bearcat bball,but football season me and my buddies were all Ohio State. There were quite a few Notre Dame fans around too. I don't remember a singl fan of Bearcat football in elementary, junior high, or high school. 
In fact the only Bearcat football fans I've ever met were some Spaniards I met in Barcelona. No idea how they picked the Bearcats, but they said their Dad was a big fan. He was Spanish too, not from the US.

MediBuck's picture

Until UC is able to prove itself a perennial power and lock for BCS bids (and therefore get some regular media love), it will never be able to turn the corner. All the astute posters above me have correctly pointed out the numerous problems (financial, demographic, geographic) standing in the way of the Bearcats ever becoming a stable football school.

That said, Cincy is a step above local MAC schools, and as a 3-year stepping-stone is perfect for attracting young up-and-coming coaches (I'm looking at you, Matt Campbell). Who knows? If they're lucky, one will stick around like Chris Peterson (edit: apparently, even that's in danger) and keep the program relevant if they can join the ACC and recieve a much-needed cash infusion.

"There is a force that makes us all brothers, no one goes his way alone." --Woody Hayes

AndyVance's picture

Well, this is certainly interesting news in light of this thread... Is this:

  • a net positive to UC,
  • a net negative to UC, or,
  • a real head-scratcher?

As one of the commenters put it, what a wacky end to the silly season...

Bucksfan's picture

This certainly helps in the relevance department.

old_rasputin's picture

This is an interesting article.  I currently live in Cincy, and it seems that there are more UK fans than there are UC fans.  Those UC fans that I do know HATE tOSU.  Whenever they talk about tOSU it is always in reference to the fact that "we almost beat you that one time" or "OSU is too afraid to play us."  It is nauseating.  My theory is that most UC fans know that thier teams are mediocre so they grap onto whatever minor acheivement that they can.  Even the Cincinnati Enquirer seems to know that UC is not all that good, as last year when UC Basketball went on a 6 game skid and then beat a cupcake opponent the headline on the sports page read in all caps "BACK ON TRACK."  This, it seems to me, is homerism in its purist form.  

"We hate to lose, but when we do, rest assured we'll be back, and someone will pay the price." Coach Hayes

Phillips.449's picture

I feel your pain Rasputin.  I grew up in Cincinnati and got my bachelors from tOSU. My Dad is a UC Grad so I obviously grew up being a UC fan. I have made every effort to root for UC except for when they play the Bucks.  I have attended UC games more than many of their Alum and students simply because I enjoy football and it was cheap.  Hell back in the day they even took my BuckID when they let students in for free.
Unfortunately for UC (in my opinion) starting in 2002, I slowly began to wean away from rooting for them and lately I have had to start rooting against them.  Their fans are simply ridiculous.  I have to laugh when they tell me that we are afraid to play UC.  Little do they know that aside from in this southwestern corner of Ohio and the occasional Saturday when we do play them, UC isn't on any Buckeye fan's radar. 

BED's picture

This.

A few years ago, before UC was demolished by UF in the Sugar Bowl, and the height of their dilusions of granduer where in full swing, I heard a UC fan tell me OSU was afraid to play them, and they could beat us, etc., etc.  My reply was not only could OSU beat UC, we could do it in Cincy at any time.

The Ohio State University, College of Arts & Sciences, Class of 2006
The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, Class of 2009

nbshelton729's picture

Funny thing is that I am the exact same way, but opposite.  I grew up in Columbus and was the biggest Buckeye fan my entire life.  I went to UC for college and got highly involved.  I invested time in organizations and the athletic department.  When I lived in Columbus and traveled somewhere, I would hear hate towards OSU as being "the most obnoxious" fans in football.  I never agreed with them or understood them since I was one of those fans, until I went to Cincinnati.  Now I realize that many OSU fans place OSU on a pedestal and act like other universities don't exist.  The problem doesn't come from UC fans, they just want to be acknowledged as a real school with good sports (which they have).  UC will never be on the same level as OSU, that much is understood by UC fans.  Its that many OSU fans push them to the side, when in reality, they are of equal levels in most aspects.  With football being the one major thing that sets OSU above Cincy.  Of course OSU will always have the bigger following, but they are named after a state and UC is named after a city.  Comparing those and their fanbases is the same as UK-Louisville and Penn State-Pitt.  Also, its not that OSU is afraid to play UC, its that OSU has nothing to gain.  UC is a legitimate team that can pull of those kind of upsets that will ruin a season for OSU (although not likely), and if OSU does beat UC, it is seen as nothing special.  I wish they would play every other year in both major sports though.

To go with what you said, I have always cheered for OSU when they don't play Cincy in anything, but I have become less concerned with them.  I wouldn't say I cheer against them, but it doesn't ruin my day when OSU loses now.  I do think its very important to cheer for your alma mater, and not the school you grew up by.

AngryWoody's picture

Cincinnati is weird. I've lived in Columbus and I've lived in Cincinnati. When you live down here, it's like you're in your own little bubble. OSU might as well be from Mars. It just isn't mentioned, despite the fact that there is a huge OSU fan base here. Even the guys on ESPN 1530, and 700 WLW spew constant hate for OSU. And this isn't normal ESPN "I hate OSU but I won't say it." Ken "King of the Gingers" Broo will shout down OSU fans on the radio.
 This is how pathetic Cincinnati is. This is the towns #1 sports guru. What a tool.
I guess I don't know how to keep UC relevant, I just hate Ken Broo and wanted to vent my "Broo Rage".

Our Honor Defend!

Doc's picture

Good 'ol Ken Poo.  I remember when he started in Cincy.  I was in high school at that time and couldn't believe he was aloud on tv.  The guy is a joke.

"Say my name."

AndyVance's picture

Looks like UC is working on addressing at least one big issue re: capital and facilities - upgrading Nippert Stadium.

BED's picture

The Ohio State University, College of Arts & Sciences, Class of 2006
The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, Class of 2009

AndyVance's picture

That's too pricelss for words...