Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A strong case made for the University at Buffalo to change their name

New University at Buffalo athletic director Danny White made some noise in July with his rebranding efforts at that university.

The University is officially "The University at Buffalo, The State University of New York" and has historically marketed their sports teams as "The Buffalo Bulls".  White is choosing to focus on the "New York" part of the name.  He has begun to feature "New York" a brand.  He dreams of a day when the university's teams might be commonly known as the "New York Bulls".

In marketing terms this is a great idea, potentially helping expanding the appeal of a weak brand university by changing the brand.

Other universities have tried similar tactics.  Division I schools like The University of Memphis, Texas State University, Missouri State University and others have worked to develop more marketable brands.

But they did it differently.  They changed the names of the actual institution.

Unfortunately what is being tried in Buffalo is clearly a workaround --- and in that is a little unstable.  Really the optimal marketing move would be for the university to tweak their official name to take over the unused "New York State University" brand.

On, a poster by the name of Buffalo Lion very lucidly made the point that if the university made such a move, it would likely strongly improve their chances of securing a Big Ten invite.

On the surface the idea may seem laughable to many, but I think his argument is actually very sound.  It is both well made and worth expanding upon. 

As it stands today, UB has no shot of getting in. "Buffalo"  is far too limited and parochial of a brand for the Big 10 to accept.  There is no way to sell that as a peer to Penn State and Ohio State.

A name change to New York State might very well make them a much stronger candidate by eliminating that huge speed bump.

But there are hurdles to such a name change.

The SUNY system

The State of New York has a university system called the "State University of New York" - SUNY - system.    There are 13 degree granting campuses in the SUNY system.  Four of those are termed university centers -- the universities at Buffalo, Albany, Binghampton, and Stony Brook (on Long Island).

The thought is that Buffalo isn't going to pursue an outright name change because the current Chancellor of the SUNY system, Nancy Zimpher, sees all 13 degree granting campuses as equals and as such would be disinclined to allow one of them any advantage over the others.

"It you know it won't be approved, why try?" Seems to be the current line of thinking

For people who understand the power of a good collegiate brand, it is pretty plain that allowing the University at Buffalo to use the name "New York State University" would be a dramatic upgrade to that university's ability to market itself.

"X State University"  is usually the second strongest public university (and occasionally the strongest - ie. Louisiana State, Ohio State) in a state.  In that, the naming convention carries easy connotations to sports fans and the general public.

To people outside of New York, unfamiliar with the universities in New York State, the assumption would be that this renamed UB would be a big deal in the state, second only to New York University.  For those in that crowd who understand that NYU is a private school, they would accurately recognize that this renamed UB would be the New York equivalent of Penn State --- with NYU mirroring Ivy League school Penn.

That is exactly the understanding that would resonate with Big Ten supporters, making a dip down for a less developed athletic program potentially politically tolerable in Big Ten circles.

The trouble is that it would also give UB an SUNY approved advantage over the other 12 SUNY degree granting campuses and specifically over the other 3 university centers.

That is however, not a strong enough reason to say no.

Zimpher is a graduate of Ohio State and presumably as such is fully aware of the benefits being part of the CIC could generate.

She has however had to step in as head of the SUNY system and deal with a gross abuse of power in a grade changing scandal at the athletic program at Binghampton, one of the university centers.  That scandal saw the president of that university retire, the athletic director resign, and the head basketball coach dismissed. It lead to the SUNY system refocusing to ensure that athletic success remains secondary to academic success.

One can understand if the idea of helping a university's athletic program grow seems very much against her instincts.

But that view of the idea of Buffalo joining the Big 10 is very much an oversimplification. The benefits of this are not primarily athletic in nature.

What would UB be athletically in the Big 10 if admitted? For the next 10-15 years, as the school ramped up it's facilities, they would likely be just another program in the Big 10.  They would likely be hard pressed to make a bowl game in football or make the NCAA tournament in basketball most years until their facilities and fan support caught up with their competition.

Perhaps recruiting could dramatically improve as UB transitioned (especially in basketball), but one would think the likely end result for a New York State University in the Big Ten over the next 20 years would be a program the caliber of Purdue, Illinois, Indiana, or Northwestern. 

The real benefit would be academic.  Anything that is good for UB could easily be good for the other SUNY schools.  One would think an academic would see many ways to leverage a SUNY school's admission to the CIC.  (Perhaps she could request the additional admission of Stony Brook --- another SUNY AAU member --- into the CIC?)

Having the CIC's lobbying effort pumping federal research dollars into UB (and potentially all four university centers) would be a big net academic gain for students in the SUNY system.  And that is the point of her job, isn't it?

Blocking UB amounts to Zimpher cutting off the SUNY system's nose to spite it's face.

The needs of the city

The city has struggled to retain citizens in the face of economic troubles. Since the bills were founded in the 1960's, the city has lost over half of it's population.  In the last decade alone one can see the troubles facing Buffalo.  The city lost over 10% of its population between the 2000 and 2010 censuses.

That's a bad trend for an NFL city.

Sooner or later Buffalo will lose the Bills.  Ralph Wilson is 94.  The next owner of the Bills may not feel any need to pass on Los Angeles or a brand new stadium in the Inland Empire to continue to serve a much smaller and poorer community in Western New York.

That is, unfortunately, the national identity of Buffalo.  "The city most likely to lose their NFL team due to population erosion."

Having "Buffalo" in your name is not a strong position for a university.  UB fans like the city name in the title and enjoy how "The Buffalo Bulls"  mirror "The Buffalo Bills", but keeping the name is not a net positive for the city.

Even if the university isn't commonly known as "Buffalo" and doesn't have Buffalo in it's name --- it's still going to be located in Buffalo!

The city will still benefit from all the high paying jobs it creates.  The city will still benefit from all the people the university brings in.

So really the question is "What name would bring in more money?"

It may sting the heart of a proud Buffalo resident, but dumping Buffalo from the name could very well rev up the university's ability to rebuild the city.

If (and when) the Bills leave, it would be very reasonable to imagine Bills fans switching their support to the Bulls, if the Bulls are in a conference like the Big 10. That would largely validate the school's admission among Big 10 power brokers and could in turn transform the football program into a strong lure for even more students.

Consider the similarities between Austin and Buffalo.  Buffalo may be small for an NFL team, but should they lose the Bills, it is the perfect size to support a major college athletic program.  Buffalo will never attract another NBA team, but they could fill a Big 10 basketball arena.

Principles in the City of Buffalo need to be thinking about re-branding the city for the post Bills-era.  Being host to a Big 10 school would be a great transition.  Mayor Byron Brown and other influential Buffalo residents should be joining former Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano in pushing school officials to push the SUNY system to allow UB to adopt the "New York State" name.

(A few years ago, Golisano reportedly offered to give the university $8 million if they changed their name to New York State.  The gift was conditional reportedly because Golisano felt his money would not have the desired impact without the much better New York State name opening doors for the university.)

Never be scared to try to be great

I think the best move for Nancy Zimpher is not just to allow UB's personnel to change the university name, but rather to strongly encourage them to change their name and more, to do so immediately.

Buffalo Lion has is exactly right.

The parochial sound of  the "University at Buffalo" will prevent that university from ever gaining consideration for Big 10 admission.  It effectively takes UB off the board as a candidate.  In very simple terms, regardless of the financial benefits of such an admission, there would be no way for the Big Ten leadership to sell it to their rich alumni boosters.

None of those people want to talk with SEC and Pac-10 boosters about admitting an athletically under performing "city" university --- from the MAC, of all places.

Changing the name to specifically "New York State University" (no reference to Buffalo) in effect puts all of the SUNY systems's cards on the table and dares the Big 10 to pass.

It sets an expectation of an unlimited future for that university.  That is something Big 10 boosters can accept and talk about without embarassment.  "It is not just about money, NYSU is stepping up, just like Rutgers."  They can say when challenged by SEC and Pac-12 alumni.

At that point, the negatives become largely irrelevant.


In such a scenario, the fact that UB athletics do not draw Big 10-type numbers seems temporary.  Being in the Big 10 will create masses of UB fans and curiosity viewers in Buffalo.  Additionally, Buffalo is very close to historic Big 10 territory and would see much stronger turnouts in conference play, fueled by Big 10 alumni in western New York.

Non-competitive Football

On the football field NYSU might be slow to develop, but the kinds of athletic payouts the Big Ten Network would potentially create ($30-45 Million annually per school) could fund major facility upgrades and speed up the development of that program into a bowl caliber one. And, if the Bills do leave, UB athletics would likely inherit NFL caliber facilities.

Non-competitive Basketball

Basketball would likely respond quite quickly.  New York City is one of the premiere basketball talent hotbeds in the nation, Bobby Hurley is a well known guy, and with only 5 players on the court, one star can make a program. A single year's Big 10 share could transform basketball at the university.

What does it matter if NYSU is strong in basketball and weak in football in the Big 10?  It doesn't.

At that point, it boils down to some simple questions.

Changing UB's name makes the decision a financial one for the Big 10.

Does the big 10 want another school that can potentially generate games in or relevant to New York City AND New York State viewers?

Does the Big 10 want in state cable payouts from a state of 20 Million?

Does the CIC want NY's huge number of congressmen pushing research dollars their way?  Do they want another AAU school (or two) in their voting bloc?

The admission of the university (along with a strong football school to balance it) actually becomes quite a compelling argument. One hopes Chancellor Zimpher, the people of Buffalo, and other principles on the UB side see the potential there.

Why I think the Cowboys picked Travis Frederick in the First round and how it affected the rest of the draft...

News reports from the Dallas papers filled in much of the story behind the Dallas Cowboys' selection of Wisconsin C/G Travis Frederick in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, and I think I have been able to fill in some of the last remaining holes.  What emerges seems like a story worth telling....

After blowing the signing of Tony Romo and missing out on most of the 2013 free agent pool, Jerry Jones needed an offensive lineman to sell a distrusting fan base.

In a nutshell, that was the biggest part of it.  But the devil is in the details.

You have to understand the situation.  Dallas Fans were furious because DT Sharriff Floyd was on the board when Dallas's turn came up at 1(18) and Dallas passed.  Dallas had two huge trouble areas entering the draft --- a DT and interior offensive linemen.

Dallas's scouting department appeared to a man to be enraged over Jerry Jones passing on a talent in Floyd ranked between #6 and #8 on the draft board the scouting department assembled.

Jones has said he asked new Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin if the team needed to draft Floyd and Kiffen said the team was OK on the DL.

With that in mind, Mr. Jones began looking at offensive linemen.

There are reports that he had his eyes on OL Justin Pugh who went early at 1(19) to the Giants.  It is also very possible that Dallas also had OL Kyle Long in their sights.  They brought him in for a workout. He went next at 1(20) to Chicago.  Both players were considered end of first round, start of second round talents.

Dallas went from having a pick they could use to take what their scouting department considered to be a top 6-8 player, to having all of their first round grade starting offensive linemen off the board.  The scouting department was livid.  From their perspective, GMs should trust their draft board.  When they don't, disasters like this occur.

Jerry Jones simply could not face his fan base with a first round Safety or LB after blowing Floyd, Pugh, and Long.  Jones could not just draft the best player available at 30 knowing that it might mean he would not land a starting caliber player on either line in this draft.

There was only one more player Dallas's scouting department considered a first year starter on a pro offensive line --- Travis Frederick.

Frederick was a player some teams loved and others hated.  He is aggressive, strong, and well coached.  He was a very accomplished collegiate player, but his final year was not as good as previous years as his teammates were not as good as in prior years.

In question among the scouts was his athleticism.  Most teams felt he simply lacked the mobility and  athleticism to start in the NFL.  Dallas's scouting department and a few others disagreed.  Dallas actually sent OL coach Bill Callahan, a coach widely considered to have a great eye for OL talent, up to personally work Frederick out.

Most teams looked at Frederick as a gamble to take in the third or fourth round.  The teams that thought he had the athleticism to start --- like Dallas --- thought that if a team fell in love with him, Fredrick could go off the board early in the second round.  (Dallas actually had him ranked around 25-27 on their draftable players  board. Given the run on OL that saw Pugh and Long go about 10 picks earlier than Jones thought, Jones likely felt he had to take Fredrick at 30 to get him at all --- and to appease an angry fan base.)

To state it more bluntly, the teams that thought he was athletic enough saw him as a first year starter, a career-long solid starter, and likely a 10+ year vet. That player is worth a late #1 or early #2.  The teams that felt he lacked the athleticism to handle NFL defenders considered him a player that would likely be picked as a gamble in the fourth round.  Prior to the draft, the latter camp's opinion was considered much more likely.

I like the Frederick pick instead of Floyd for a few reasons. First a number of scouting reports on Floyd mention that for a top player who is capable of being quite disruptive, Floyd spent a lot of time on his back. To me, that is a concern at DT.

Secondly, a number of teams found a reason to pass on Floyd, not just Dallas.  That suggests he has flaws that the pre-draft reports may have discounted too much.

Thirdly, Floyd does not appear to generate many sacks.  Some may call that nit picking as he is clearly disruptive, but to me I think you do better with top DTs who have the burst at the end and the hand strength to complete a sack.  To me personally, you have to have that if I am going to burn a first on you.

Fourth, the bust rate of top DT prospects is quite a bit higher than the bust rate on OLs.

Finally, I think it makes a lot of sense to listen to your coaching staff.  You could have the best prospect in the world, but if your coaching staff won't play him, why bother drafting him?

It may piss off the scouting department, but a balance between the scouting department's and the coaching department's opinions should mean you get a talented prospect that the coaching staff will play.

Dallas under jones has drafted a number of well considered prospects who the coaches had no interest in playing.  Bravo to Mr. Jones for trying to address that.

Frederick was given the thumbs up by both groups.

From what I have seen I think Fredrick does have the athleticism to be an above average NFL starter, but there is no denying that the pick that wasn't made seems to have driven the pick that was.

And there were more implications from passing on Floyd.  As the news of anger in the scouting department broke, it appears Jones may have tightly followed his board in the second round to appease his scouting department.  Gavin Escobar was ranked in that 26-28 range on the Cowboys board, but he screams of being yet another Cowboys' 2nd round TE prospect likely to become a starter at his next NFL stop.

Escobar is physically weak and that makes him a very poor blocker.  He needs a good 2 years of weight room work to fix that. While it is very reasonable to think he may be Jason Witten's replacement down the road, it seems pretty debateable that this was a guy the coaches of a team with holes in the starting lineup wanted in the second round.

The NFL is not big on developing prospects over 3+ years.

Then in the third round the Cowboys took Baylor WR Terrance Williams at 3(74) and Georgia Southern S JJ Wilcox.  After the Wilcox pick the Dallas coaches were euphoric, voicing great relief that Wilcox, the guy they wanted, was still there.

I found that curious at the time.  If they liked Wilcox so much, why not take him at 74?  Wilcox was considered a raw 4th round prospect, but on draft day the media was reporting that a number of teams thought highly of him.  It is possible other teams could have also thought of taking him in the third round.

It is very possible that Jones took Williams --- a WR some had with a first round grade --- first, so that anyone who would evaluate the trade down would have to say Dallas got an early second round talent and a first round talent back in that trade, rather than an early second round talent and a fourth round talent.

It is also very possible that the pick was again made to appease the Cowboys' scouting department, who likewise had Williams with Escobar in that 26-28 range.

It is certainly interesting to think of how a guy Monte Kiffin didn't want may have driven the course of this draft..