Shiny and new.
That’s been the theme of Rice Athletics so far this year. The new uniforms on the football, volleyball and soccer teams, the upgrades to the Brian Patterson Sports Performance Center, the revamped pregame hype videos.
Everything about the athletic department screams change.
The strategy is, of course, well-coordinated with the on-field exploits of the Owls teams. New head coaches in football and baseball and a soaring volleyball team have energized the Rice fan base. Football season ticket sales were at a 12-year high as of late August, according to a tweet from Director of Athletics Joe Karlgaard. The newness that the athletic department has been selling is working.
But the shine won’t last forever. Credit the volleyball team, which has raced out of the gates to a 11-4 record to begin the season. The soccer team, which was supposed to be one of the crown jewels of Rice Athletics this year, has faltered, however, starting the season just 3-5. After a close opening day victory and a strong showing against the University of Houston, the football team has lost its past four contests to fall to 1-4. In their latest contest, the Owls were embarrassed by Wake Forest University, trailing 42-3 at the half and ultimately falling 56-24.
There are only two things that can truly invigorate a fanbase, and the first is success. Rice can’t sell that at the moment, at least not in its flagship sports of football, basketball and baseball.
The second selling point is hope. And Rice is doing a really good job of spreading exactly that.
The problem with hope is that it fades as long as success isn’t present. That’s why the average tenure of an FBS football coach is just 3.8 years, according to Business Insider. Any coach can sell hope for year one and year two, but without success by year three, they’re out the door.
What’s happening now in Rice Athletics is like what happens to an undergrad studying in Coffeehouse at 11 p.m. That shot of espresso might keep them awake for three more hours, but by 2 a.m., when Coffeehouse is closed and they still haven’t finished that awful PHYS 101 problem set, they’re out of luck.
Rice is in its first hour, when there’s still plenty of room for progress. The fanbase is (relatively) happy, the athletic department has a new feel and the new coaches have promised change. It remains to be seen, however, if this momentum can be sustained. Because like that undergrad struggling with the physics problem set, there still hasn’t been an a-ha moment where everything clicks and the tides finally turn.
I’ll celebrate change when the football team wins a bowl game, when one of the basketball teams makes the NCAA Tournament, when the swim or soccer or volleyball team wins the conference title once again and when the baseball team returns to the College World Series. Until then, nothing will be meaningful enough for me to confidently say that any momentum has shifted in Rice’s major sports.
It’s fun to root for Rice sports right now, and believe me, that’s a great thing. But I just can’t get myself to fully buy into this ‘newness.’ Maybe I’m being too skeptical; following sports is supposed to be fun. I simply don’t think change alone is a reason to be satisfied.