Once again, college football is in full swing and all is right with the world. It is funny that most people in Buffalo still seem to care very little about the UB Bulls program. Despite the lack of general interest and fan support, DI college football lives in Western New York. However, it has yet to find a way to thrive.
The Bulls haven’t really done much to help their cause. Outside of the Tuner Gill era, this has been a program mired in mediocrity that has often inched towards downright pathetic. The early years were obviously thin as was expected when trying to make the jump. But it seems unfortunate that the team never gained momentum from their MAC Championship and bowl appearance. Perhaps the blame lies outside of the stadium walls.
Buffalo has always prided itself on being a football town. Yet the Bills seem to be the only team that fans have any interest in. The Buffalo News is fighting the good fight for this team and providing adequate coverage. However, the paper seems to be the only media outlet giving much attention to the team.
It is understandable that the battle between a college football program, the whiner line and candy drafts is a difficult one. At the end of the day I would imagine D1 football finishes a distant third from those two radio programming staples.
What would appear to be the biggest problem is two-fold. The team struggles to hit the .500 mark in most seasons while battling major perception issues from fans and area media alike.
The first issue is strictly fact. Aside from the success Turner Gill built, the Bulls have been quite average for their entire time playing with the big boys. Of course, that isn’t for lack of trying. They schedule big name teams for those early season pay days with hopes of constructing the framework to build the program on. However, it would seem as if there is also a perpetual state of recycling happening here. At some point the program will need to take the next, necessary step forward. Until they do, finding their rightful footing (truthfully they should slot in right behind the Bills and Sabres) in the Buffalo sports landscape will be a battle.
The second issue is simply a misconception of the football being played by UB. Just look at their MAC Championship season. They were ultra-competitive in the MAC and even managed a few upsets along the way. That first bowl berth was a great step to take, even if the end results pushed Turner Gill to a job with a more respectable school. Playing in the MAC is a big part of the issue for me. As someone who likes just about any form of college football, I’m cool with it. Mid-major conferences produce great competition and the occasional stud prospect. For bandwagon fans, however, it just doesn’t register.
Face it, Buffalo sports fans are largely front running, fair weather complainers. Listen to 30 seconds of the whiner line, or read any form of Buffalo News comments. The lunacy greatly outweighs those with balanced opinions. For those fans, if your team isn’t running the show against SEC or B1G teams, they will have little interest in your success.
I am also of the opinion that fans may treat UB games like a minor league baseball team in that the game is an available activity but not a must-see event. I gather that attitude comes, in part on the perception of the conference and level of play the Bulls operate at.
The key is finding a way to not only fix the perception, but create the big-time college football atmosphere that should accompany a team at a school the size of UB.
One conversation that occurred on Twitter last night between Brian Koziol and Mike Harrington revolved around the Big East searching for a potential 14th member for football. As an update, the Big East will be adding Boise State, San Diego State (seriously) and Army in the coming years along with UCF, SMU, Memphis and Houston. Add in UConn, Rutgers, Temple, Cincinnati, Louisville and USF and the would be little argument over the improvement UB could enjoy with that type of move.
However, getting on the Big East’s radar is one challenge, as is ensuring the team wouldn’t become a doormat in the revamped Big East. In the current climate, that would be exactly the case. However, on the journey to respectability (particularly around here) having schools like Boise on the schedule would be a major coup for the Bulls.
Ultimately, UB probably falls outside of the preferred list for the Big East in terms of that 14th team. However, finding their way to a more competitive conference might be the step the school needs to take. While the MAC is a respectable mid-major, it would appear most fans don’t hold much respect for playing Western Michigan, Ohio, Miami (OH) and Toledo on a yearly basis.
Solving that problem, in the short term, lies with the non-conference schedule. More specifically, the non-conference home schedule. This year provides a good example as Pitt will roll into town for homecoming. These are the type of teams that the Bulls will need to continually schedule and eventually beat. Not only will the big name teams draw interest, beating them will too.
Perhaps that is the ladder that needs to be climbed. It is pretty much what Boise State did. Find non-conference respect before climbing out of the mid-major category. Ideally, it won’t take upwards of 15 years to pull off.
If the Bulls can build on a five-year plan that could even put them atop the MAC (and keep them there) they would likely take major strides towards creating the big-time college football atmosphere that this region lacks.