Three years earlier in 1941,
Programs have good and bad years, good and bad decades, and, for Yale, good and bad centuries. When we talk about the success of a team in any individual season, we generally talk about individual players, coaches, or big plays in big games. But bigger forces, beyond the control of coaches, boosters, and even cheerleaders, can make or break programs. World War II generated dozens of new programs that flashed to prominence and quickly disappeared, but many forces work more slowly and subtly.
For example, when we look at the success that USF has had this year, our first inclination may be to congratulate Jim Leavitt or Matt Grothe. Of course, without good athletes and good coaches, the Bulls couldn’t have competed with
Getting into the Big East was important for recruiting. This put the Bulls on television and made them more prominent in the national media, but why was USF given that opportunity?
1997 would have been a good year for Bulls fans—had there been any. The school fielded a football team that competed as a 1-AA independent. More important, in that year the
With more students, the football program had more resources to draw on. USF was able to squeeze past UCF (which has actually surpassed USF in attendance) and other upstart
I think there are three immediate factors that can help a team have success in any football game, and if we work to explain these factors then, maybe, we can better understand why some programs are successfully and others are not. The three factors are coaches, players, and home atmosphere.
I’m not going to try to explain why some coaches are better than others, but why some programs have better coaches. A big part of it is money. Coaches follow money. Also, coaches tend to gravitate towards the schools with better tradition. This might be megalomania or the belief that it is easier to be successful at Notre Dame than Purdue, but it is definitely a major force. Finally, luck is important. A school might be willing to spend all the money in the world, but sometimes they just hire the wrong guy.
Teams with better players are generally better. Programs with more tradition and more recent success have an easier time attracted talent, as to programs with better facilities, and better facilities (and coaches) can also be important in how the players develop and perform once they are in the program. Having big crowds at the games and attracting attention from the national media also helps. It is easier to recruit athletes that are closer to the school, so larger populations and larger talent pools will, ceteris paribus, surround better teams. And, of course, a big part of it is luck—injuries, chemistry, and all that jazz.
Having a powerful home atmosphere is mostly driven by the size and support of the fan base. Larger schools will have more resources to build stadiums and more fans at the games. Older schools will have more and richer alum to donate to the program, and to yell from their luxury boxes.
I have come up with the following flow chart to illustrate why, I believe, some programs are successful and others are not.
And, of course, everything is shaded by luck. Even when the experts know before the season who the coach of a team is and how well most of the players have performed in the past, they still struggle to predict which teams are better. I won't be making specific predictions about team success, but, hopefully, I will be able to find some meaningful generalities.
Several things feed into each other. Success, in some ways, is just part of a giant feedback loop, with success producing more success. Other factors are "exogenous" - they evolve in the world outside of college football. Most important of these exogenous factors is local population.
Next week I will focus on population size and the effect that it has had historically on the success of a handful of programs.