Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Guilty Pleasure -

One of my newest internet addictions has been the fan boards for both the U of Idaho and Boise State. I admit it; I’m addicted to reading the banter of supporters of both schools. To read the Vandals all blustery over the school while discounting our failures versus Boise State constant gloating and simultaneously obsession with everything Vandal is pretty funny. BSU state fan chirp about the impending close of Idaho while Idaho fans deride BSU for being a glorified community college with only 1 merit scholar (Idaho has 43). Most of the posts are fun and not the least bit fact based. Idaho is not closing, it budget and endowment are healthy (if not robust) and BSU academic standards are the same as Idaho’s (they are set by the state, thus to say that an Idaho has a higher admission standards than BSU or vice versa is untrue).

Although, as a Vandal myself, I’m particular to Idaho and her causes, I’m not as anti BSU as some of my friends and posters on the VandalVenue appear to be. I actually welcome BSU’s growth and success. Living in Seattle region, I can observe the strong in-state rivalry between U of Washington and Washington State, and, although peripherally, the rivalry between Oregon and Oregon State. Do you think the Huskies were happy when the Coug went to the rose bowl, did the Cougars celebrate with the Huskies won the nat'l championship? No, so I don't think anyone should be surprised when Vandal didn't attend the ticker parade after BSU BCS win. Rivalries are fun and they are good for the state in which they reside.

Like any market, competition in education is healthy. For nearly a century the U of Idaho has been Idaho’s school. Most professionals, legislatures, judges, and the who’s who in Idaho went to the U of I. So, in many respects, the school had a monopoly on the higher education system (sorry ISU, but you haven’t ever been much competition) and allowed itself to grow fairly fat and lax. This new rivalry with BSU, who has come on the scene in the last 40 years, has forced the school to refocus itself. As in Washington State, the competition between the state's major schools forces them to constantly invest in themselves, to improve academics, and improve on the athletic fields. This leads to better research, better education, better national visibility, and more alumni support of both schools. Better research and the better education leads to a higher quality of graduates who then go out and contribute more to the state economy, the state grows, and life improves. Thus, ultimately, having two healthy major state universities is a far better system for a state than a one school monopoly.

Of course, it’s easy to see why both schools don’t exactly welcome the rivalry. Idaho is a cheap state. Whereas Oregon and Washington can support a large higher education system, Idaho seems reluctant to do so. The state makes education resources tight and this breeds a pretty healthy animosity between all the schools for whatever each other gets, like two kids fighting over the same cookie. Therefore, the money that the U of Idaho needs to update her 100+ year infrastructure to be a modern school is in direct combat with BSUs aspirations of becoming a legitimate university with a post-grad system that isn’t a joke. I wish our state legislature could look forward a little and allow UIdaho to invest in her facilities and allow BSU to expand it’s graduate programs, both would allow the schools to actually compete with each other (Idaho with BSU on the athletic field, and BSU with Idaho on the academic field), but is that actually going to happen?

Currently, if you read the fan boards, the changes are not going to happen. BSU fans want to elevate their football out of the mid-majors and that requires money. The state of Idaho can not support multiple major football programs, which is why a number of BSU fans would like to see the programs at U of I and ISU folded under and all the money could be channeled to BSU (ala the Nebraska football model). So, they are going to oppose any investment in U of Idaho athletics. Conversely, Idaho wants to maintain it’s education dominance in the state, so naturally it opposed any money spent on upping BSU’s educational offerings. With alumni of both school fighting each other added to a naturally cheap legislature, the state of Idaho gets more of the same as a result: BSU; a fair undergraduate school with a hell of a football program in the Capital, Idaho; a great research institution with a laughable sport presence in the north. While this is a sustainable status quo, I'm not sure it is in best interests of the State. Both school to flourish and directly compete with each other in anyway they see fit; Idaho on the field or BSU in the lab.

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