There has never been a better time to get involved with UTC athletics. And, trust me, there are many community gains to be enjoyed through increased fan support.
I can't remember a time with more widespread success and general excitement in Mocs World. In the past year, UTC brought home four Southern Conference championships, roped in top-notch hires to run the Athletic Department and both its basketball teams, and kept up a student-athlete graduation rate that far surpasses the overall university average.
So, here's a question for you: When was the last time you attended a UTC athletic event? No, going to see monster trucks at McKenzie Arena or Lynyrd Skynyrd at Finley Stadium doesn't count. I mean an actual game or match.
If you haven't been in a while, you're not alone. For measure, let's use the total number of season tickets sold for the athletic department's three premier sports: football and men's and women's basketball. All told, there have been about 4,000 season passes purchased for those programs combined this year. That's an increase over last year, and that number is actually not too shabby when compared to other schools in the Southern Conference. However, I think we can all agree that Chattanoogans shouldn't rest on those laurels, knowing we're outpacing the fanship of Cullowhee, North Carolina.
When it comes to reasons UTC enjoys only modest fan turnout, I've heard no shortage of ideas: bigger conferences dominate the market, we live in a city that has plenty of other things to do, they should have never moved football games off campus, and so on. I argue that, sure, those are all valid points, but if we can build more teams that win regular championships, none of these excuses will keep fans out of the stands. But the winning won't stop there.
While researching for a 2012 article published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Michael Anderson discovered that when a college football team increases its win total by five victories, alumni donations increase dramatically, applications to the university jump, acceptance rates drop, and in-state enrollment bumps up, as does the average SAT for all incoming freshmen. And that's just football wins.
So why are those good students landing at schools with higher performing athletics? Because people are attracted to winners. Every time a UTC athlete competes with the word "Chattanooga" on his or her jersey, that student becomes a marketer for our city and the university. The better athletics teams do, the more students want to go that school -- and the pickier a school can be about what students to admit. Marshall University experienced this in the late 1990s, as did Boise State University more recently.
UTC supplies the immediate regional workforce with more graduates than any other higher education institution. Currently operating businesses can compete at a higher level, and prospective businesses will see Chattanooga as an attractive place, with a deeper talent pool of quality university graduates. The first step to graduating those students, though, is to get them in the doors as freshman.
While the faculty and administration of the University of Tennessee system continue working to attract and retain the best students at UTC, I suggest we help out, too. The first way is to write a check to the fundraising arm of the Athletic Department, the Mocs Club, which will help provide more athletic scholarships and build better facilities. The second -- and most fun -- way is to actually cheer from the stands. There are more football games this year, and we're less than a month from the start of the basketball and wrestling seasons. Grab something blue or gold from your closet, and head to a game. I promise you'll go back for more, and you'll be a part of something special.
David Martin serves on UTC's Alumni Board of Directors, as well as the UTC Athletics Board.