Speculation #3 -- We're really good at everything that the public doesn't care about…and there's a reason for that.
In the world of college sports, folks LOVE talking about football and men's basketball, and on a lesser scale baseball. But just because those are the only sports talked about doesn't mean other sports don't exist or aren't relevant. Something a lot of folks are aware of but hardly pay attention to, is the fact that at Georgia Tech; when you get past those 3 programs our sports programs are pretty wildly successful.
Besides football, men's basketball, and baseball, Georgia Tech has varsity teams for each of the following sports:
- Men's Track & Field
- Men's Cross Country
- Men's Tennis
- Men's Swimming & Diving
- Men's Golf
- Women's Basketball
- Women's Track & Field
- Women's Cross Country
- Women's Tennis
- Women's Swimming & Diving
Of those, how many do you read about on a regular basis? Heck, how many of those programs have alumni that you hear about regularly? (Your one freebie here is rising PGA star Matt Kuchar.)
The idea here is that in the sports listed above, you're going to have a really, really hard time finding folks whose only goal in life is to go pro, whereas most high schools nationwide produce 30 kids per year whose only goal is to make it to the NFL, NBA, or MLB. They want to be one of those guys that ESPN glorifies and worships, who becomes rich and famous and makes millions to play the game he loves. Unfortunately, with all of the aforementioned "non-revenue" sports, that's not a feasible option. If you're not a top-ten player in your respective sport worldwide, there's a slim-to-none chance that you'll get any real media attention or even be able to make a legitimate career out of your sport…and even high school kids understand the basic impossibility in those odds.
What does all of this have to do with our success? Well, in sports like football and basketball, where we face huge opposition in our recruiting, we're recruiting kids whose main focus tends to be going pro, and who could usually give a damn about the long-term benefits of getting a good education from a reputable university. All these kids want to do is play college ball on a high level, have a good time, and focus on their athletic abilities in hopes of going pro.
However, when you start considering sports where "going pro" isn't much of a realistic, good option, a college decision is made more on the basis of long-term benefits that the school offers than on the basis of "how easy will my ride to the pros be". This fundamental difference in culture of a sport's high school athletes is what makes Georgia Tech a lot easier to sell and look a lot more attractive to the highest-achieving athletes in the "non-revenue" sports. Tech experiencing that relatively high attractiveness in a select grouping of sports is the reason that we've been so consistently successful in those sports.
(As a side note, I've thought in the last couple of years about how our football program is only 23 years removed from its last national championship -- not quite as long as it sounds. How could a program like ours have so recently been able to recruit national-championship-caliber athletes when now it seems like just the thought of it is laughable? Or, looking at things the other way around, how could a program like ours have so quickly lost the ability to recruit national-championship-caliber athletes? My theory on this is that in the past quarter century, there's been a pretty substantial change in the culture surrounding sports. Athletes are so much more glorified now than they were then, largely thanks to ESPN's emergence as a dominant TV network. It also seems that there's so much more money to be made in sports now than there were then -- it's pretty staggering how much there is to be made now relative to 1990. All this to say, the past 25 years has seen an explosive growth in the attractiveness of making it to the pros -- so much that a significant number of kids now are abandoning all concern over their studies because of the money and fame they can theoretically get without them (realistically is another question, for what it's worth, and this article has gone on far too long already). That general change in the culture of sports is how we're so far removed from a football national championship in every way other than time.)
Do you see things the same way, or are there other reasons that we're a national powerhouse in most everything other than the big three sports?