That Duke Thing Again

So Scoble posts about some gathering at the Apple Store in Seattle where Buzz Bruggeman sees some other Duke guy wearing his Duke gear and they start talking about Duke this and Duke that (but not, I assure you, about Duke’s crappy football team). Scoble says it proves his theory that guys who go to the “good schools” get all the breaks.

I comment on Scoble’s page that the Duke thing has more to do with the hoops program than the academic program. There are a lot of great schools out there, but you don’t see many people running around in Columbia hats.

Shortly thereafter I get a good natured email from Buzz telling me, no doubt correctly, that he never sees anybody wearing a Wake Forest (my alma mater) hat. And that’s the problem. Marketing is, believe it or not Mr. Million Dollar a Year school president, important for schools just like everybody else, and there is no better marketing than a great sports program. And if you can’t have a great sports program (e.g., Stanford) then at least have one great sport (the sweet smell of Duke basketball more than masks the stench of its bottom of the conference football team). I guarantee you that Duke has received more meaningful press as a result of its hundred or so ACC and NCAA basketball championships that is has all of its Rhodes Scholars and other academic notables combined.

Every televised game (which means every game, since Duke owns the networks during hoops season the way Notre Dame does during football season) you get to hear about what a great school it is (and that’s true- it is a great school, but there are lots of those). You also get to see that stupid Coach K/Amex commercial about 500 times, but I digress. The thing is that young kids (even the future Duke students still living up in New Jersey) don’t care about average SAT scores or Rhodes Scholars. Even if they do care, that information isn’t on ESPN every time you turn on the TV, like the Duke basketball team is.

All of these schools (Wake Forest definitely included) who pretend to be showing academic integrity by ignoring their crappy sports programs (my other alma mater, Vanderbilt, being another great example of this) are not only thrusting a canard at us to rationalize athletic mediocrity, they are also missing out on the kind of marketing and publicity that money can’t buy (but championships can).

So my hat’s off (like all the other hatless Wake Forest fans) to Duke for stumbling into this brilliant marketing strategy by hiring Coach K back when he was a nobody. But sorry Buzz, I still hate the Blue Devils.

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