Branding is important in college sports | News, Sports, Jobs

Photo courtesy of WVU coach Neal Brown talks with quarterback Garrett Greene.

MORGANTOWN – On Tuesday afternoon, the Big 12 (plus 4) announced its preseason football media poll and preseason all-conference team, and the results showed the West Virginia Mountaineers firmly in the middle of the pack.

WVU finished seventh in team voting in a league where five schools received first-place picks but the Mountaineers did not. At the same time, only one WVU player – offensive tackle Wyatt Milum – was named a preseason all-conference player.

The situation reflected WVU's place in the college football hierarchy: neither penthouse nor slum.

Although the club has won a total of 781 football matches and 15 championship titles and has finished in the top ten in the world of sport six times, it has not yet won a national championship title.

The sport has plunged headfirst into a new era of play where the strongest schools are in the SEC and Big Ten, but they are in a conference one level below.

Their two top franchises – Oklahoma and Texas – moved to the SEC this year, while the conference was filled with teams like Utah and Arizona, Houston and BYU, and Colorado and Arizona State.

These are well-regarded programs that are more suited to ESPN than ESPN+, but also more suited to midday games than prime time.

And we should note that neither national championships nor Heisman Trophies are won on ESPN+ or at noon.

Branding is more important than ever and historically WVU has been a pioneer in developing its own brand, whether through the use of the Mountaineer mascot, “Country roads” school song or his ability to attract such attention that a center like Zach Frazier, who would not gain recognition or notoriety at many schools due to the anonymity of the position he plays.

Instead, he was heavily promoted and lived up to that promotion, earning All-American honors throughout his career and being selected in the second round of the draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In this age of professionalism, in what is always called “Amateur” In sports, branding has become almost as important as recruiting.

Recognition in recruiting and the ability to attract an audience in person and on television lend an aura of importance not only to the football program but to the school itself.

While WVU, the school, is battling financial problems that have led to major cuts and a loss of students, the athletic program must put the school in a positive light. Television ratings may be more important in the bigger picture than national rankings, and the rebound of the football program last year must have helped offset some of the damage done by the Bob Huggins basketball debacle.

Neal Brown is a modern-era coach who has realized that the X's and O's in the word “exposure” are as important as they are in his football playbook, and that the responsibilities of a coach have changed dramatically in this era.

The ability to stay in a Power 4 conference has been critical for WVU's athletic department. But being there is only half the battle. You have to be successful.

“We play a schedule where we're on national television a lot, so they get attention, but when you get it, you have to be productive. The hard part about it, whether it's All-League teams or All-America teams, is the quality of the people they select.”

Seventh place and an All-Conference player is not enough, even though the league has grown to 16 teams, making the competition for team and individual recognition even tougher.

“The job of head coach has changed so much. The All-Big 12 team, Mike (Montoro, the football sports information guru) and I take it seriously now. We discuss it in a staff meeting – you can't vote for your own players. My HR department, myself, Mike … we do a good job of narrowing it down,” he said.

“We have a long staff meeting. I think that's important. I think that's the right thing to do. I'm not sure everyone does that.”

Look at it this way: Despite all the effort Brown and his team put in, they only had one All-Big 12 candidate, Milum, while Oklahoma State and Arizona had five players nominated, Utah and Colorado had three.

For this fifth time, five teams – Baylor, BYU, TCU, Houston, Arizona State and, for some reason, Kansas State, which had been picked as the runner-up to Arizona in the previous season – had no players named to the team.

Brown realizes it's a problem for the people who vote on these things, especially the All-American ballot, to keep track of them because the airwaves are jammed with games every weekend, sometimes Thursday through Monday.

He was baffled last year that his offensive line, anchored by Frazier and in which Milum played a key role, received no real consideration when the Joe Moore Award was given to the best offensive line in the country.

“It is a farce that our offensive line from last year was not listed in the top five,” said Brown. “We were the No. 1 Power 5 rushing attack in the country. We had one of the fewest sack totals allowed in the country,” he said.

“Should we have been number 1? I don't know, but we should have been in the top 5.”

Now Brown does not blame himself for this.

“I don’t necessarily feel responsible, but I think it’s my job to speak for our boys,” he said. “I think Garrett Greene (WVU's starting quarterback) is underrated in our league and nationally.”

Greene isn't your typical Heisman Trophies-winning quarterback. He stands about 6'10 and his passes aren't as accurate as one would hope, but he has a big throwing arm and mentality and combines that with a touch of speed and agility, making him the ultimate dual-threat quarterback that's all the rage now in both college and professional play.

So you can be sure that Greene will be a frequent topic of conversation at Brown's press conferences.

Despite all the heartache that interim basketball coach Josh Eilert has endured, he made RaeQuan Battle a national figure through his fight for his right to play.

And retiring baseball coach Randy Mazey took it upon himself to keep his injured star JJ Wetherholt under center, even noting late in the season that Wetherholt's mere presence in the lineup could affect the outcome of the affair, even though he hadn't been selected for the press conference after a hitless game.

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