Tomey's Tough Row

If The UA Is Going To Have A Profitable Football Program, The Team Will Have To Win Big.

By Tom Danehy

THERE ONCE EXISTED in the United States a political party called the Know-Nothings. The party began as a secret society whose aim it was to stop the growing influence of Roman Catholicism in the United States. In existence from roughly 1849-1860, the Know-Nothings were a loose-knit (yet tightly-wound) bunch who were aghast at the number of Irish and Italian immigrants streaming into the country. They were determined to stop the flow. More importantly, they wanted to contain the spread of Catholic influence on American life and politics.

Beginning as clandestine societies, including the Order of the Sons of America in Pennsylvania and the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner in New York, the Know-Nothings came together under the banner of the American Party in 1854; but oddly, they remained a secret political party with an agenda known only to the secret members.

Danehy I guess the modern equivalent of the actual party would be that Reform joke Ross Perot threw together. A party with no discernible platform and one which no one will admit to being a part of.

The Know-Nothings got their name from the secretive nature of their party; when a member was asked about it by an outsider, he would always answer, "I don't know." The Know-Nothings grew in power due to a popular mistrust of immigrants (sound familiar?) and in 1854 they actually elected governors in Massachusetts and Delaware.

The party disappeared into the mists of history after 1860. Apparently, the thought of black people being free made the fear of Irish Catholics seem kinda petty.

(One last thing: Can you imagine having a powerful political party in this day and age and trying to keep it a secret? I guess it could be done. The first thing you do is hire Lyndon LaRouche as your party's spokesman....)

I think about the Know-Nothings from time to time, mostly when I'm listening to talk radio. All summer long, they've been popping up on Gabe's afternoon sports show, talking about how this is Dick Tomey's final year at the UA unless the Cats pull out from the tailspin which saw them go a disappointing 11-11 the past two seasons.

These guys are morons, I thought. Dick Tomey is a good guy and a good football coach. He's right for the university and a credit to the community. That talk was all nonsense, I figured. Loonies who have nothing better to do than speculate on a man's career and life for the cost of a phone call.

Then I saw the UA football schedules for the next seven years and I got to wonderin'. Were these Know-Nothings just lucky, or were they somehow prematurely aware?

No matter how good a guy a coach is, it's a brutal, immutable fact in this day and age that the football team has to bring in millions and millions of dollars to help keep the entire athletic department afloat. The UA is blessed to have a national-championship men's basketball team which makes money (although less than many fans might think), and a women's softball program which is the best in the country. But whether the Wildcat athletic department's bottom line is colored red or black depends entirely on how many butts they put in the football stadium seats in a six-game home schedule each year.

At the UA, there will always be a built-in constituency. You'll have 10,000 old white people who like to wear red sweaters and sit around on McKale Lawn all afternoon, drinking cocktails and eating barbecued filet mignon before kickoff. Then you've got another 25,000 average people who live and die with the Cats each year. These are the people who know the names of third-stringers, who call in the talk shows, who actually read that stuff in the Star during recruiting season.

Then you've got 5,000 or so students, those who want to do college stuff while they're in college. These are the ones who want to have a good time and therefore haven't been drawn into the Greek system.

That gives you around 40,000 people, not bad as a core constituency goes, but not enough to turn a profit. The UA has to fill those final 15,000 seats, the ones in the end zones where you feel like you're watching the side of a TV set, and the ones high up on the east side of the stadium, the ones where you suffer through a September sunset for an hour longer than everyone else.

And in order to fill those seats--fair or not--you have to have an exciting, winning team on the field. It's painful to look back and see how all that goodwill built up during the Desert Swarm seasons dissipated. It started with that 10-9 loss at Oregon three years ago, which knocked the Cats out of the Rose Bowl and culminated in that ass-whuppin' from ASU last season.

Those 15,000 seats are going to be hard to fill and the schedules are no help. Looking down the road, the Cats will have to be winners to overcome the schedules. Look at this:

• Next year, the Cats don't play their third home game until October 24. And then it's against Northeast Louisiana.

• In 1999, one-third of the home schedule is taken up by Texas-El Paso and Middle Tennessee State.

• In 2000, five of the six home games are teams with "State" in their names. Confusing.

• In 2002, the season doesn't start until September 14.

Add to that the threat of bad weather, like last year when 10,000 or so showed up to watch the Cats beat Oregon State in a cold drizzle, and you can see how fragile this whole thing is.

The only solution is to start winning and winning big, so all the front-runners and fair-weather fans will start showing up.

There you have it, Coach Tomey. It's all very simple. You have my permission to go out and start winning. Otherwise you won't be able to fulfill your lifetime dream of coaching against Middle Tennessee State. TW

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