In the words of Bobby Flay, are you ready for a throwdown? I have to admit, I had the idea for this particular question while listening to Jay Jones on The Writer's Block, a sports talk radio show weekdays in Eugene from 8-10am. Make sure you check it out if you're in the area.
The popularity of College Football has been growing by leaps in bounds over the last 2 decades, developing athletic departments into financial juggernauts. At the UO, football makes up 70% of the budget for the athetlic department. Even though football is enjoying a surge in popularity, it wasn't always that way. 20 years ago, Oregon Football had endured losing season after losing season. By contrast, Oregon Track has been there for decades, giving rise to Olympic athletes and developing Eugene into a national and international player. That brings us to today's Fact or Fiction question.
Fact or Fiction: Football has more value to the University of Oregon than Track and Field.
The knee jerk reaction most fans might have would be "Yes! Football is much better than silly old Track!". What did the ATQ editors have to say about it? Click the jump to find out
JConant > FACT
Football is more valuable. It's pretty much a slam dunk, assuming you measure "value" in financial terms. Beyond the money, however, track & field at Oregon carries significant weight.
Football is the ultimate high profile college sport. It entails great expense but also generates great revenue. Beyond booster and fan contributions, ticket sales, conference bowl money, food and beverage contracts and television agreements, the university picks up substantial money from advertising to 70,000 people six or seven times each season via programs, stadium signage, apparel and gift items. Track has fewer events, smaller audiences and less general interest, which together equal a substantially lesser marketing opportunity.
All that said, track & field is a major ingredient in the brand identity recipe at Oregon. It has been for decades. Need proof? Consider that the university for more than a year has been working to secure a federal trademark on the phrases "Track Town" and "Track Town U.S.A". When Oregon track (indoor, outdoor, cross country) is at the top of its game, as it was this season, it is embraced as a major sport by the Oregon community and local fan base. Oregon probably is one of only a handful of schools where that happens. Without question, track & field is more uniquely U-of-O than football, which is popular to the point of near-religious status in many parts of the country. That uniqueness alone makes the track program highly valuable.
If faced with a hypothetical scenario where you had to cut one program or the other, either decision would be a disaster. But when you talk about value to the University of Oregon, the discussion starts and ends with a couple facts that I pulled from Ben Schorzman's May 27 article in the Daily Emerald. In 2007-08 the school made $24.5 million on football (also $5.6 million on men's basketball). After covering $56.3 million in expenses the athletic department netted only $300,000, and only then after $1.2 million was received from the Oregon Lottery. Track & field has enormous value at Oregon beyond the simple dollars and cents.Take football away from the UO athletic budget, however, and you'd be left with nothing but an intramural program and club sports.
jtlight > FACT
While I think that track is very important to the University and the city of Eugene, the football program adds more value to the school. Financially, there is simply no comparison. It is on the back of the football team that the athletic department is able to break even.
While the track program at Oregon will always have an elevated place at Oregon and in the community, it simply cannot compete with the popularity of football, in Oregon or throughout the country. When the football team does well, many people throughout the country know about it. When the track team does well, only a small amount of people know about it.
Track and Field is great for the school, and I'm glad it's coming back into focus, but it just can't compete with football.
dvieira > FICTION
Football is the more popular sport... check. Football brings in more revenue.. check. Football has a greater following.. check. Football represents tradition at Oregon....nope. There is no debate on how much more popular college football is in the United States. Fall Saturdays bring out the tailgates, the parties, and crazy television coverage from morning to night. Even with all of that going against it, Track at Oregon has one thing that football just can't compete with. Tradition. In football, what do you think of when you think of tradition? You think of schools like USC, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas and Notre Dame. We Oregon fans can claim to be among those but we always circle back to the excuse of "Our tradition is one of reinventing ourselves". Track and Field is the one sport that puts Oregon above all other schools in the country, where we can claim to have tradition on our side and a long history of winning. Oregon has won 16 total National Championships in the history of the school. 15 of those National Championships are either in Track and Field or Cross Country. The top traditional powers in college football? Notre Dame leads the way with 12, followed by Alabama at 11 and USC with 10. When people think of Track, they think of Eugene and the University of Oregon.
The facilities also support the history and traditional value that Track represents to Oregon. Hayward Field has played host to huge events with national and international renown. The US Track and Field Olympic Trials have been held there 1972, 1976, 1980 and again in 2008, making it the only site to host three consecutive trials. For the 2012 Olympics in London, look for Hayward to get some pub for that year's trials. Autzen Stadium can cite hosting a U2 concert and several Grateful Dead events, nowhere near what Hayward as done. Without the reputation and tradition of Track at Oregon, none of events of international interest wouldn't be in Eugene.
Don't get me wrong, football has a unique place in Oregon history but it has no where close to the tradition of excellence that Track has. Eugene isn't called "Football USA" and there is a big reason for that. Football can't compete with what Track has done for the community of Eugene and the University of Oregon. The success of the last 20 years in football makes it easy for us as fans to latch on to the glory and marketing of the pigskin, but Track is the foundation on which all of Oregon tradition is built. Financially, football may be bringing in the bacon but college athletics is supposed to be more than just giant sacks with dollar signs on them and that's where Track delivers, not just in tradition, but in international acclaim and the funding that it brings into the community.