Sunday, November 24, 2013

Was Saturday the greatest win in Georiga Southern History?

Georgia Southern celebrates its win over Florida, 26-20

The question was being asked even before the ball stopped moving after being knocked down at the goal line. Was Georgia Southern’s 26-20 win over Florida the greatest win in the school’s history?

Just the fact that the question is being asked tells you two things. First, that it was a really big win for the Eagles, and second, the team has a lot of monumental wins if a win over the Gators in the Swamp is not indisputably the greatest win the program’s history. For a lot of schools, especially an FCS (1-AA for those like me who refuse to give in to the NCAA’s rebranding efforts) school, a win over an SEC opponent would be the starting and ending point for the discussion of greatest wins.

But we’re not talking about just any 1-AA team. We’re talking about a team that has six national titles to its credit. We’re talking about a team that had the first 15-0 season in NCAA history and capped off the historic season by winning the national title on their home field that, 24 years later, is still the largest crowd in the stadium’s history. We’re talking about a team that has won back-to-back national titles three separate times and has been in the national championship game eight times. So it’s not as clear cut as it would be for other schools.

I see two schools of thought when it comes to intercollegiate athletics and which side of the fence you fall on will likely color your belief on where the Eagles' win falls on the list of greatest wins.

For those who believe that intercollegiate athletics is the “front porch” of a university – that is, it’s the first thing prospective students see of a school – Saturday’s win is without a doubt the greatest in school history. It was one of the major storylines of the day on all the sports networks. It was the kind of advertising for the school that would take millions of dollars to purchase if the marketing department were to try to get that kind of national exposure. It was all over social media. People were talking about Georgia Southern.

The “front porch” population (which, based on my incredibly unscientific observations seems to be the vast majority of fans) point to the mentions on ESPN and CBS about the win and can conclusively say the Eagles have never received this kind of attention. And they’d be correct. Even when they won a national title, they didn’t get the kind of coverage they got for a regular season win over Florida.

Where I disagree with this line of thinking is it equates media attention with significance. Yes, the Eagles were all over the news. People who didn’t know Georgia Southern existed now do because they beat an SEC team. But by using media attention to determine greatest win, you’re saying exposure is the primary reason to play the games.

I believe I’m in the minority of Georgia Southern fans who believe Saturday’s win is, at best, the seventh-greatest win in the program’s history, falling behind the six national titles.  I don’t believe any players set out at the beginning of the season with their ultimate goal being to win a regular season game, no matter who the opponent is. The goal is to win titles, be it conference titles or national titles, you play the game because you want to be the best. Not just the best in a single game, but the best team in the country. Six times the Eagles have achieved the ultimate goal of being the best team in their division.

As they move up to 1-A in 2014, the goal is presumably going to be the same – to be the best team in their division. The opportunities may not be there as often as they were in a division that now invites 24 teams to the playoffs (as opposed the four-team format that will be in place next year for 1-A), but the goal to be the best team should still be there.

I have no doubts that Georgia Southern will have photos of their win over Florida in its marketing materials it sends to students for the next few years. They’d be crazy not to.  And from the marketing and recruitment standpoint, Saturday’s win may be the greatest in school history.

But I doubt there will be a banner added to the six that already hang to represent the championships. I doubt there will be anything added to the stadium to commemorate the win over Florida. In the stadium where the games are played, the only things commemorated are conference and national titles, not regular season wins.

Your view of the role of intercollegiate athletics will likely determine where you would rank the Eagles most recent victory. For me, I’d rather have six national titles than six wins over 1-A opponents during Georgia Southern’s tenure in 1-AA. But I won’t argue if you have a different perspective.

Just the fact it’s being considered as possibly the greatest win in school history is enough for me to know it was a huge win.

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