Collegetowns, USA

Last night I watched a Travel Channel television program from Tivo named, Collegtowns. The show is also scheduled to run on August 20th at 3pm (ET).

I enjoy channels like the Travel Channel, Discovery, and the History Channel, but I find that too often some of the shows on these channels have a solid premise that is stretched too long with useless fluff. Collegetowns was similar in that you could/should watch it from Tivo where you can cut about 20-30 minutes of fluff out of it.

Collegetowns listed what it called “5 of the top Collegetowns” in America, but it highlighted its five choices with a decided focus on football and fandom. The production included brief comments from ESPN College Football Gameday’s Chris Fowler and ultimately choose and profiled South Bend, IN (Notre Dame); Athens, GA (UGA); Madison, WI (U Wisconsin); State College, PA (Penn State); and Austin, TX (U of Texas) as its five best college towns. (Sidenote: Fowler hedged his bets by making a comment that Penn State had the “best” tailgating in the country and then said that Austin was his favorite stop of any in the country).

I don’t like all of the selections. But, before I disagree too vehemently with the show, let’s review exactly what the show billed itself to be — The Travel Channel’s website states, “Tour five of the nation’s best college towns that have two things in common: school spirit and a passion for college football.” The following is what I glean from that:

(1) The list obviously focused on schools with “spirit and a passion for football.” This will immediately exclude most schools/towns from non-BCS football conferences. So, as much as Princeton, NJ and Bozeman, MT may show up as “top collegetowns”, these and similar places were obviously excluded from consideration.

(2) This is not a list of their opinion of THE ‘Five Top Collegetowns’. It is a list of ‘Five OF THE TOP Collegetowns.’ There is a difference, and it provides the show a little creative license in their selections.

Despite this creative license, I think that plenty of justification exists to disagree with the inclusion of South Bend and State College on the list. Where do these choices come from?

Today, there are TONS and tons of both statistically formulated and completely subjective rankings of all things college. Of course no one ranking is necessarily “correct”, but a comprehensive look at many of the rankings can at least create some generalities by which you can make some conclusions. When I take a look at the larger body of rankings, I do not see where South Bend and State College land on neearly enough similar lists (if ANY similar lists) to merit a ranking anywhere close to “one of the top 5 collegetowns” in America.

Seriously…what is the Travel Channel doing here?

Take for example College Prowler’s rankings for “local atmosphere” where State College gets a C+ and South Bend gets a D-. Wow. Those sound like GREAT towns!!!

Since the Travel Channel’s list included a focus on football…let’s take the next step and add to the mix the impact for sports with the definitive voice on American sports, Sports Illustrated‘s Top 10 College Sports Towns. Here are 10 opportunities for Notre Dame and Penn State to be listed. Unfortunately, neither even cracks the list.

Lastly, I very much liked this list that successfully segmented college towns/cities into tiers based on their size and then listed the Top 10 College Towns for four different population segments. This list ultimately provides FORTY opportunities to be ranked. SURELY South Bend and State College can wedge their way onto a list of 40!!! Think again. Surely, they did not.

(3) Consider epodunk’s list for a moment and you will consider the third item that I gleaned from the Travel Channel’s description of the show – the use of the word “town”.

I was disappointed in the show’s liberal application of the word “town” that seemed inconsistently selective. So, IF you somehow can justify calling Austin’s 650,000+ city residents and its 1.4+ million area residents a “town”, then I would grant you that Athens, Madison, and Austin’s presence on the list are legitimate. (All places that I have visited multiple times).

But, if you can justify Austin as a “town”, then how can you not consider the entire Triangle region for the list? Austin and the Triangle share everything from state capitals to economic diversity to population size. But, the Triangle is home to THREE major universities and many other minor ones. Austin is home to one major school.

Don’t misinterpret my goal here. I (unfortunately) don’t expect NC State / Raleigh to make the list. No school that shuns its greek community, has a history of shaming its athletic supporters into guilt, and neglects their local geographical opportunities to be ‘special’ in town (ie – Hillsborough Street) like NC State would ever have a chance of being a “best college town”. It’s just not a part of the recipe.

However, based on the general definition of “town” I wouldn’t expect Austin to make the list. So, if the Triangle is eligible, I have to ask how is it that our area is consistently ranked higher than Notre Dame and Penn State – including a recent #2 national ranking at CNN/Netscape – but is so easily ignored here?

Parting Shots
A few random comments based on an NC State-perspective:

===> Every school thinks that they not only have the most amazing fan support, but that they invented the game of football.

===> People/fans never “adjust” for size differences of schools when they talk about atmosphere. The University of Texas is the largest school in America. Penn State has the largest alumni base in America with over The Big Ten & SEC have multiple schools with over 40,000 students.

===> As you probably noticed, the Travel Channel’s list failed to include a single ACC school and was biased toward the Big 10/Midwestern part of the country. This bias would not be so obvious if the 2 obviously inappropriate schools on the list weren’t Notre Dame and Penn State.

So, if you don’t want to include the uniqueness of three simultaneous college gamedays in an area that has been ranked by CNN & Netscape as the #2 collegetown in America, then I think that it is fair to float our neighbors from Chapel Hill as a candidate for inclusion on the list. As much as it pains me to provide them any promotion, Chapel Hill is the epitome of a college town and usually ends up on most lists that don’t include the Triangle as a whole.

If you just hate Chapel Hill too much to support their inclusion without the rest of the Triangle, then why not Clemson? Clemson is a perfect “college town” with a football gameday experience that ranks with the biggest of the big when the Tigers rub Howard’s Rock and run down the hill at Death Valley in front of 80,000.

===> Although it was unstated in the teaser, the list included only schools whose overall Athletics Departments ranked in the Top 20 of the NACD Directors Cup standings. This criteria would further support the inclusion of the Triangle region because both Duke and Carolina are Top 10 National Athletic programs. Unforunately, NC State’s commitment to Athletics fails to compare and perhaps our #51 overall ranking negatively impacted the Triangle’s candidacy. It certainly wasn’t our support for football, where NC State led the country in attendance based on percentage of capacity of its stadium.

===> Ultimately, what I found most interesting from the Travel Channel’s program was the commitment to the football program and athletics success at these schools from the University’s leadership. For example, Penn State’s president was interviewed on the show and spoke of the vital role of Athletics and football.

Until Mary Anne Fox came to Raleigh, such expression by an NC State academic leader was unheard of. I think that some people would say that, “if NC State were ever put in such a situation to be on such a program that (of course) our administration would project a similar message as these schools did.” But,this attitude misses the point that we will NEVER be in a position to be recognized in such a manner unless our leaders are not only verbally committed to talking the talk, but are committed to making the decisions, generating behavior, and building traditions that will elevate the school from the #51st Athletics Department in the country.