Wednesday, August 3, 2011

View From The Porch

The front porch of my house needs a little attention but I think the garden hose, a broom and maybe a quick trip to the nursery is all I need to fix it. It's not that there's anything dramatically wrong with my porch - in fact, it looks pretty much like every other one on my block - I just want to make sure the first impression my guests have is a good one.

And so it goes in the world of college athletics. For a university, athletics often serve as its front porch; that is, the first and sometimes only contact the public will have with the institution and it's important to us that our house is in order.

For the Athletics Communications staff, it's a message we'll be delivering to the hundreds of student-athletes who begin returning to campus this week for the start of fall practices. We'll be giving them tips on dealing with the traditional media - what's left of it anyways - along with the far reaches of the new media, mainly the world of Facebook and Twitter.

Mainly, though, we'll be letting them know the power of their uniform.

Institutions do a wonderful job telling their stories. Using the internet and social media, they talk of their research, academics and their impact on society. All wonderful and important items. But athletics are often times the most visible parts of a university and provide another way to walk casual observers through the front door to see all a school has to offer.

Sometimes, though, a visitor only wants to stand on the porch and when they walk away what they think about your home is shaped by the view of your door.  We tell our student-athletes that athletics often times answers that door and needs to understand that responsibility.

Growing up, I was big fan of Notre Dame. Twelve years of Catholic school will do that. But beyond knowing the Fighting Irish were located in South Bend, Ind., and that they had pretty good football and basketball teams - yeah, I realize that was a long time ago - I was largely ignorant about the rest of the university. My opinion of Notre Dame was shaped purely by athletics and my thoughts about many other schools I had general awareness of were likely formed the same way.

The world has come a long way but athletics' highly visible nature can have quite an impact on how someone thinks of a school. That might not be right or fair but life is full of first impressions. 

The UC Davis women's basketball team made a historic appearance in the NCAA Tournament last season and played No. 2 Stanford on ESPN2. I want to believe a few folks checked out our athletics or campus websites out of curiosity because, let's face it, it's not like the Aggies were a traditional fixture in the tournament and people were familiar with us. 

How many bounced around the campus website a bit and learned that UC Davis is one of the leading public institutions in the country? Who knows, maybe some young grad walked into an east coast office for a job interview the follow Monday morning and their resumè popped out a little more because the hiring manager recognized the "UC Davis" name from the nationally televised game.

That's the power of the uniform. 

But off-the-field headlines can also affect that reputation, both positively and negatively, and we stress that as well. The uniform is powerful and it never really comes off. We tell student-athletes that whether they play one minute or a full game, they'll almost always be identified in the community - and in the media - as an Aggie student-athlete, even after they leave our campus. What a fellow classmate does might not be news but if a student-athletes does the same thing, it is.

We're fortunate at UC Davis to have student-athletes who understand this message and who live it. They spread the Aggies' good name not just by what they do on the fields of competition but by how they carry themselves off of them. Sometimes just being nice to the flight crew on a team roadtrip can lead to an email back to campus with a note of gratitude and another notch in an already strong reputation.

And when student-athletes earn Academic All-America awards or receive recognition for community service, it strengthens how the public views our campus. Teams carry the UC Davis banner throughout the country, serving as ambassadors for all the great work being done on this campus. They take the front porch wherever they go.

Our teams are currently on their way back to UC Davis. Women's soccer has its first practice on today, football gets it going on Saturday, and volleyball (Aug. 9), field hockey (Aug. 10) and men's soccer (Aug. 11) follow next week. Cross country and men's water polo are close behind.

Student-athletes will attend orientations and eligibility meetings - of which athletics communications is a part - as they gear up for the upcoming year. Right now, our PR machine is somewhat quiet but things will be changing fairly quickly.

The front door is ajar but we're ready to open it up.

- Mike Robles, Assistant Athletics Director, Athletics Communications


  1. One of the people that decide how the front porch should look is that Athletic Director. Is there any news on who will replace Greg Warzecka?

  2. Mike

    Very well said & thought provoking!

    John Patella