The Heisman campaign that never was: a good idea, or a wasted opportunity?

I venture to say that the majority of us who are already thinking about football are in agreement that Teddy's wishes to not have his name and face tied up in a marketing blitz was an admirable one. Teddy's backstory holds plenty of justification for calling him a young man "beyond his years" as his maturity has been evident again and again. This lastest display of team first mentality seems to be the biggest (or at the very least, the most high profile as numerous websites have weighed in) and so it seems worthy of some discussion.

I'll get straight to the biggest question behind this post: if a campaign were to happen, would it really about Teddy, or would it be just as much about Louisville football? Clearly Teddy's name would figure prominently in such a campaign, and if he were to end up receiving an invitation to New York and being named the winner, it would be his name called and his words spoken at the podium. So yes, the award would be his.

Still though, I raise the question because football programs are defined and judged by measures of success mainly at the team level (W/L record, conference championships won, number and quality of bowl appearances, national titles to their name) and how well they have sustained success through time. Not to diminish the value of individual honors, but seemingly the only one that really does much to establish the name of a program is the Heisman.

I found this article from CBS college football writer Chris Huston earlier today that framed the discussion of Teddy's wishes not to have a campaign largely in this way. To provide some context for his argument:

A rather odd mentality has taken shape over the years regarding the idea of marketing in college football. Coaches who lobby for their teams to be ranked highly in the polls are considered out of bounds or acting in poor taste. Schools that push their players for postseason honors are seen as tacky and uncouth. Heisman campaigns in particular draw the ire of media and sports information directors alike, with both sides usually poo-pooing the notion they have any effect on the award's outcome.

But there are two reasons companies, politicians and other public entities spend billions of dollars every year on marketing and public relations campaigns.

1. They work.

2. It's in their best interest.

I have a problem with this. He does a strange bit of back and forth with himself here in that he acknowledges backlash for those in college football who generate off-the-field publicity efforts but then widens the scope of his argument to break out of the confines of simply discussing college football to suggest that billions get spent on marketing campaigns because they are effective (and presumably we are supposed to then believe that they would be effective in football as well... a clear contradiction to his previous statements about poor taste and lobbying for honors being uncouth). While it may be true in politics or consumer spending that large scale marketing campaigns work, I don't think it is entirely analogous to Heisman voting in which a closed community of voters who already have day jobs dependent upon their coverage of college football are deciding the outcome.

This was just the most glaring problem that jumped out at me, but there are some others that don't really need attention here. Weaknesses of his argument aside, I was compelled to write this post because I saw some value in deconstructing his second point, the claim that marketing campaigns happen because they are in the best interest of those who launch them. It is hard to argue that a Heisman wouldn't represent a huge moment for Louisville football, with hard to predict, yet still wide ranging impacts for the program and likely even the university as a whole. The visibility that the University of Louisville receives through success on the field of play goes up when the stakes get higher and with greater visibility comes increased interest from prospective applicants. More applicants means that a university can be more selective about who they want to admit, or they could simply admit more students meaning revenue can increase. Athletic success can really do a great deal to strengthen a school's financial and academic standing in ways that are usually unforeseen by sports fans. The Heisman is the highest profile individual honor in all of college sports and is therefore by default a hell of a lot of advertising for the school of the player who wins. So really, I do think there is something worthwhile to what Huston wants to argue.

And yet, I can't totally disregard the circus aspect to Heisman campaigns. Would Louisville football be cheapening itself if it put together a Heisman campaign? Not necessarily, but the execution of a good campaign is as yet hard to see because few have pulled it off. I'm sympathetic to the point of view that if Louisville football wants to be taken seriously as a big boy program, it doesn't need to do anything but act like one. Going all in on some advertising blitz in the wrong way (and my own view is that most ways are the wrong way) carries with it an implied message of "hey everybody, we're inferior and we need gimmicks to get ahead". Huston in effect says that this is where we are as a program: we're little and we need to do something like this in order to become "big". I disagree, and I have to give props to Teddy and the coaching staff for wanting to avoid all that. I give credit to Huston though because our program is at a point in its development in which we are closer to reaching (and sustaining) heights previously unknown, so why not do what is in our power to try and make it happen? After all, we can't change our crummy schedule, but we can still take steps to put Louisville football on people's minds. I'd love to know what others are thinking.

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