Truce column, final responses

My apologies for a slow weekend here. I missed what I think is my first game ever for health reasons on Saturday with a stomach bug, and have been slow coming back. Still, wanted to revisit one weekend issue.

I got more email over the weekend responding to my column saying that U of L needs a football truce, but first, a few observations.

— I don’t suppose I’m surprised, but then again, maybe I am a little that for at least half of the respondents, their anger is fueled more by Tom Jurich’s statements about fans than about the wins and losses themselves.

— The financial aspect of this whole thing is real and significant. Sometimes as sportswriters, the money people pay just to attend games is more numbers on paper than real dollars, and it shouldn’t be.

— More than a few people thought I was saying that fans don’t have a right to criticize, and I feel again I should stress this — that wasn’t my point. The right of dissent is important. My intent was to remind fans that there are consequences for just walking away, and there are. But I also wouldn’t suggest that fans just say nothing.

— Jurich & Co. have as much a P.R. problem as a football problem at this point, and I’m not sure which is more pressing.

— Finally, if you think things are bad here, take a look at what greeted new Auburn coach Gene Chizik right off the plane:

Read a great roundup of the unhappy Auburn crowd here from Matt Hinton at Rivals.com.

Finally, a couple more weekend emails.

From Buddy in Arizona:

I have been on travel and only last night got to read your “Truce Article”. I am a UL alum and football season ticket holder, even though I’ve lived in Arizona for the past 27 years. I have a Bachelor and Master degree in Engineering from Speed School and Masters in Physics from ASU. I am Business Area Manager for a major defense contractor here in Arizona. I applaud your recent articles calling into question what is happening with the UL football program. You seem to be the only local media person willing to publicly question the AD actions. I also understand the point of your recent “Truce Article” but I feel it misses the mark in a few areas.

In this article, you tell us fans that this is OUR program and we need to support it lest it be damaged beyond the point where recovery is possible. The flaw in this notion is that this program is no longer OUR program. It was our program when I sat through the dismal days of the ’70s and early ’80s. Though we often lost to teams like Murray and EKU in those days, we accepted our lot in college football and happily cheered for our team.

When Howard came, he remade the program and imbued it with outlandish aspirations of winning national championships, he never took the program away from the fans. He embraced the fans and the community and inspired them to build PJCS on their own. Nothing exemplifies the idea that the program was OUR program more than the very existence of PJCS.

Ron Cooper followed Howard and the program spiraled downward in an eerily similar way as we are seeing today. At the time, our new AD, Tom Jurich, decided to fire Cooper after Cooper’s third year because of the “negativity” surrounding the program. Since that time, Jurich is given his due credit for raising the football program from the ashes to heights that many thought not possible at UL. But it was Howard, Bill Olsen, and the UL fanbase that laid the foundation for the football program that Jurich inherited when he got here.

However, in the process of elevating the football program, Jurich gradually took the program away from the fans and made it wholly his own. He has continually sacrificed the fans’ enjoyment of the gameday atmosphere to maximize revenue. Ticket prices have risen dramatically, so much so that many of those fans who laid the foundation of the program under Howard cannot afford to attend games today. Where UL was once named among the top tailgating schools in the country, the tailgating experience at UL football games is now below average even for BE standards, the victim of Jurich assigning parking spaces based on CAF points. This has also resulted in the decline of tailgaters’ participation in CardMarch, our one and only pre-game tradition. And then there are the innumerable weeknight games that have replaced the traditional and more fan friendly Saturday games.

Lastly, there is the game experience itself, where all available space is used for advertisements and every single minute of timeouts is scripted for inane promotions. I didn’t see any of this at WVU or UCONN games last year. Though we lost both those games, I found that the games were much more enjoyable when the focus is kept on football instead of racing milk bottles. I also attended the game at Pitt this year. At the end of the third quarter, all activities were suspended while the fans engaged in a sing-a-long of “Sweet Caroline”. I was stunned and overwhelmed at the same time. It was such an incredibly “fun” thing to do and all I could think of was that there’s no way UL would waste three minutes of precious ad time that way.

The justification for all this commercialization is that the money is what is needed for UL to compete with the elite programs. As fans, we accepted these changes in return for winning football and the very real possibility of competing in BCS bowls. In the process, UL football transformed from a fan friendly program to a corporate entity with Jurich as VP & General Manager. So make no mistake, this is no longer OUR program. We are now merely walking dollar bills tolerated by the AD only because we are needed to maintain Jurich’s cash flow.

Then you go on to compare us to fans of Michigan and other “big time” programs who still show up at games even when their team is struggling. Well, I have two problems with this line of thought. First of all, those schools have a long and storied history of success at the highest levels. It is this very history that has cemented the notion of attending games as an obligation among the fans. I offer our own UL basketball program as an example. Before Denny Crum arrived, UL basketball crowds at Freedom all averaged around 12,000 fans. It wasn’t until after 15 years, six final fours, and two NCAA titles, that Freedom Hall could count on being packed, even in the decline of the late ’90s. The same is true for the fans of Michigan, Nebraska, and other “big time” programs. It was not that the fans were always like this. They grew accustomed to going to the games during those long periods of success. We were building to those levels after a decade of success and the promise of even better things to come when Kragtorpe came in derailed that train for the foreseeable future.

I’ll also note one other advantage, mentioned above, that all those schools have that we gave up – they st
ill play all their games on Saturdays. Have Michigan start playing at 7:30pm on Tuesdays through Fridays for the majority of their home games while also struggling to achieve winning seasons two years running and see what happens to their attendance.

The other issue I have with comparing UL fans to fans of “big time” programs is that whenever the fans turn it around and compare the performance of the team, the gameday experience, recruiting, or any other lacking aspect of the program to “big time” programs, we are are told “Here’s some news for you. WE ARE NOT (insert name of big time program here) AND WE LIKELY NEVER WILL BE!” The point invariably being made is that we cannot expect hold our program to the standards of “elite” programs and need to mind our place in the college football food chain. So why should we expect our fans to be held to the standards of the fans of those programs? I contend that if you want “big time” fans you need to give them a “big time” program over a sustained period of time to cultivate them. What is the AD doing to cultivate “tradition” at our games. How is the deterioration of the gameday experience noted above cultivate a “big time” fan base? Where is our equivalent to the Ohio State marching band and their dotting of the “i”? Apparently none of this is in the budget.

I’ll close with the observation that Jurich himself has done nothing to help the situation. His recent insulting and condescending attitude towards the fans have infuriated the fanbase. His revisionist history campaign to smear the achievements of Petrino’s teams have also fanned the flames of discontent. And Jurich’s lame attempt to portray himself as an “outsider” went over like a lead balloon with the fans. If he truly feels he’s still an outsider in Louisville, then he’s not trying. His reverence among the UL fanbase rivals (rivaled?) that of Denny Crum. But rather than use that to his advantage, he has chosen to antagonize the fanbase and basically tell them that if they are dissatisfied with HIS program they can go to hell. You know, Jurich has only faced adversity twice in his tenure here at UL. Now with the Kragthorpe situation, and back when he forced Denny Crum out. He has handled both instances horribly. He may do most things right, but he fails miserably at public relations in general and at conecting with the common fans specifically.

So I do agree there needs to be a truce, but it’s Jurich who needs to offer the olive branch. Until then, the only way for the fans to stake any kind of claim of ownership of this program is to continue to publicly show their dissatisfaction with the product on the field. However, we are told not to post negative comments on message boards or make negative calls to sports radio shows because recruits might be put off by them. We are told not to boo or otherwise voice or display displeasure at games because it is disrespectful to the players and it too may hurt recruiting. And we are told to not stop buying tickets or attending games because it will only hurt the program in the long run. So I ask you, Eric, just how are fans supposed to show their displeasure? Send unacknowledged and probably unread emails to the AD? What motivation does that give Jurich as long as the money flows in, fans are in the seats, and no one is voicing their displeasure in public?

I have a different take. I believe the program is being severely damaged by the incompetence of the current coach. And I believe all fans should want this damage to stop as soon as possible. To accomplish this, they MUST continue to clamor for a coaching change as loudly and as publicly as they can. And maybe in the process, they will have made some small progress in once again making this OUR program.

From Stephanie in Florida:

I wrote the letter that I am including in this email in September after we lost to UK. There has been no response from Tom since the email was sent. I finally sent a copy to President Ramsey and got platitudes without substance (at least from my point of view.) We have 4 founder’s club seats which we anted up for during our C-USA farewell tour; I don’t want to give them up and then have to ante up again at the new patron rate, so I will swallow the bile that I am choking on and come up with the $2900 CAF donation. Please remember that we live in CORAL SPRINGS, FL and fly (4 tickets) in for the three games that are played on Saturday that we can make.

This is the letter I sent Mr. Jurich in September

Dear Mr. Jurich, I am the second generation of my family to bleed “Red and Black” and a second generation J.B. Speed Scientific School graduate. I don’t want to go back to being a “Speed School graduate only” during football season but I may need a transfusion soon.

My children though born and raised as Floridians regard Louisville as their second home and desire their chance at the University of Louisville as their father and I both had. I wear red and black when Florida orange and blue or FSU garnet and gold or Miami Hurricane green and orange would be preferred. My mother has a pennant from the 1958 Sun Bowl and one from the 1970 Pasadena football bowl game. The next football bowl game I remember was 19 years after the 1958 game and 7 years after the 1970 game. Sure there were faint glimmers of hope and success with Lee Corso who flirted with us until leaving us at the altar to go to Indiana.

We went to the Independence Bowl the year I was a freshman at Speed. Then we sank back into oblivion until Coach Schnellenberger landed in Louisville after taking Miami to the heights. Another 13 years after the Independence Bowl, Louisville met and beat Alabama in the Fiesta Bowl. I was working with a graduate of Alabama and we had a lunch bet on the outcome. Surprisingly I won.

Louisville was still the punch line to college football jokes; something to pass the time until our main revenue sport, basketball started. Coach Schnellenberger left and we once again sank into oblivion until you had a vision and hired John L. Smith. John L’s teams were exciting to watch because you never knew whether we would shoot ourselves in the foot with too many penalties to overcome. He took chances on players who never would have played Division 1-A football as did his successor, Bobby Petrino.

You know all this but I wanted to remind you of your vision of Louisville football which does not have us as the punch line to football jokes. Bobby Petrino was a prostitute of the worst kind but he was our prostitute. We couldn’t trust him further than we could throw him but he had the respect and the fear of his team. He was lousy in front of the interview camera but he got results on and off the field. John L and Bobby Petrino took us to bowl game after bowl game each one building on the next appearance. We became the darling of ESPN partly due to your willingness to schedule games based on TV time and money and partly because we were exciting to watch.

I took the giant leap to buy season football tickets the year before we joined the Big East. It was amazing to me that we could have a waiting list because I grew up when tickets were given away at Convenient food mart with a gasoline fill-up of eight or more gallons. We joined the Cardinal Athletic Fund so that we could have a better chance at seats and at bowl tickets. We live in Coral Springs, FL but the flags that fly outside our home proclaim us as Louisville Cardinals. That first year that we had tickets was our Conference USA farewell tour; we planned on flying in for the Kentucky game but a hurricane changed our mind. We did fly to New York for the Army game at West Point. T
hen we flew to Louisville for the East Carolina, South Florida and Cincinnati. We joined the Cardinal faithful that made the trek to Miami even though it was a school night.

The next year, we flew home for Oregon State, FAU and Syracuse while driving to Tampa for the USF game and to Jax for the Gator Bowl. In 2006-2007, we once again planned to fly home for the UK game, another hurricane decided we looked interesting so we were there to see the CARDS reduce Miami to a tropical depression and came in for the Cincinnati and USF games. We took a party of 10 with us to the Orange Bowl. My nephews missed school in Texas to see their first Louisville Cardinal Bowl game. Christmas was so much fun because of the excitement.

Our hopes were so high for another outstanding year. Then Bobby sold himself to the highest bidder and you went flying off to Tulsa to hire another potentially outstanding coach who is better with the media in some ways than Bobby ever dreamed of being. Coach Kragthorpe is an outstanding Christian from everything I have gleaned. He is paid to be a winning football coach not a missionary. We once again flew to Louisville to watch our Orange Bowl Champions lose to Syracuse? And to Utah? And finally win against Pitt. We again drove to Tampa and watched the Cardinal Bird mascot trip coming out of the tunnel and the football team look like deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming freight train.

So this year was to be another year with some rebuilding after we lost Harry Douglas, Art Carmody, Mario, Brian etc. Our hope now is to avoid being relegated to the punch line of football jokes again. As a member of the Big East conference, we can’t afford to have the media question whether the conference performance as a whole and our own individual performance is worthy of a BCS berth. If we become the punch line, we will have failed. And if we become the punch line again, ESPN will not be so hot to have us play ball on TV no matter what day because we aren’t fun to watch and we aren’t a former power that has fallen on hard times like Notre Dame. We are an also-ran if you allow us to slip because you have lost sight of your vision.

Please, Mr. Jurich, don’t allow us to become irrelevant in college football again.

Eric, I’m not sure what the solution is at this point. Obviously, Tom Jurich doesn’t believe he has made an error but the biggest problem is that the athletic department has so readily thrown us, the paying fans, under the bus. If they gave the tickets out gratis then I could understand the outright hostility but we pay for the privilege of watching four quarters of hard fought college level + football. If I wanted to watch kids lose, I can stay home and watch my son’s Pope John Paul II H.S. Eagles lose 8 of 10, but we go to those games to support that team too! I have been fortunate to cheer myself hoarse at: two UK-UT games at Neyland; UMiami games at the Old Orange Bowl; UF games in the Swamp and the most recent Navy-ND game in Baltimore and as the letter says we have followed the CARDS as time and hurricanes allow. I love college football and basketball and it hurts to see those kids play so hard and not have the success that I know has been available at the University of Louisville.

The Athletic Department has to stop rubbing salt in our open wounds and it would have been an act of good faith to have reduced the CAF donation since the coaches salaries are less than Petrino and staff and the performance has been less than stellar.

thank you for another opportunity to vent.

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