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'If You Put A Dog In A Shiny Helmet, He’s Still A Dog'

SI's Andy Staples digs into the big business of #BRAND in college football and comes away with the obvious's not the point.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

When new Syracuse Orange Athletic Director Mark Coyle sat down with Bud Poliquin to talk about his plans for Syracuse Athletics, he admitted that he was kinda surprised to hear about just how much branding SU had been doing in New York City under predecessor DOCTOR Daryl Gross.

"I didn't know we had advertising in Yankee Stadium or on cabs or any of that. But I want to make sure about what we're doing right here."

Coyle was speaking largely to the point that SU needed to focus it's efforts on building back up community support from the immediate region, however the idea speaks to something that was a cornerstone of The Gross Era and a lightening rod of concern here on the site and elsewhere in the fanbase


We've talked plenty about our feelings on the topic when it came to SU, especially the football program, where ad time on Dancing With The Stars seemed to be more important than investing in winning the football games you were advertising. When SU fans wondered aloud why we were so worried about new uniforms in the midst of losing seasons, we were usually rebuked from above with a condescending quote like, "I don't think a lot of people understand the idea of brand."

I found it personally interesting when, after Coyle seemed to imply that SU would cut back on things like NYC taxi cabs and "New York's College Team"-type ads, some fans seemed disappointed by the idea. They like the idea of seeing a Syracuse ad in Yankee Stadium and Cuse awareness throughout the NYC area. Understandable. It's not that I think it's a bad thing and without value. But...what has it done for us, really?

I suppose you could make the case it helped secure Syracuse as part of the NYC market so when the ACC went looking to expand, they made sure to pick up over UConn. But I would imagine that was already clear. Our basketball team was already synonymous with MSG to the point where it's basically considered a home game. Perhaps it helps us get a foothold with some recruits, but, it's not like our football and basketball teams are brimming with NYC talent either. It's not what gets us all these Georgia and Florida recruits, for sure.

Regardless, Andy Staples seems to have the same thoughts in mind with his article today on branding in college football. With a natural focus on the Oregon Ducks and how they've used branding to their advantage in building a powerhouse, the piece also gets into the pitfalls of using branding as a crutch instead of as a tool in your belt.

With Oregon, the wacky uniforms also coincided with the arrival of a new offensive scheme that revolutionized the game. Which one of those things do you think had a more immediate impact on winning football games? As Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich put it, "If you put a dog in a shiny helmet, he's still a dog."

As Staples himself puts it later, "It’s easy to change a program’s logos or design. It’s incredibly difficult to build a winner."

And that's ultimately the point that critics of the Gross regime have been saying. Platinum uniforms, fancy billboards, MetLife home games and primetime commercials all have a place in the mix but they are not the things you should be focusing on. Oregon and Baylor have been able to go from bottom-feeders to national contenders not just because of wacky uniforms but also because of revolutionary football schemes and strong recruiting. Maryland, try as they might, is learning this right now. It's a lesson Syracuse football knows all too well in the past decade.

Mark Coyle, on paper, seems to understand all of this. Win football games, first and foremost, and then let things like branding and advertising accent what you're doing on the field. But the on-field product matters most. A 9-3 record speaks volumes that an alternate uniform can't.

As someone who is HUGELY anti-platinum, I'll be totally honest with you...if the Syracuse football team went 10-2, the last thing I would care about is the color of their uniforms. I would not even care for a second about things like branding and advertising and Nike contracts. They wouldn't bother me in the least.

Branding is a tool to get us there, but it's not the key.