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MSU: Football school or basketball school?

2/23/2011

An interesting topic surfaced during my Big Ten chat Wednesday.

In case you missed it -- shame on you if you did -- I have a handy transcript.

Kyle (EL)

Would you say MSU is a football or basketball school?

Adam Rittenberg (12:23 PM)

I know Tom Izzo always says it's a football school, but I disagree. Michigan State basketball is a national powerhouse program, a program that is relevant year-round. The football program has done some nice things, but I don't think MSU football captures interest nearly like MSU basketball. I sense this when putting together lunch links. I don't find much on MSU football these days, while I'm sure there are links on hoops year-round.

Tyler (Grand Rapids, MI)

Adam, we love our hoops but c'mon, MSU is a football school no contest. Top 25 in attendance every year for a mostly average program. Just wait in a few more years with Dantonio and you'll see. It's the Detroit media that's always trying to hold us back.

Adam Rittenberg (12:35 PM)

Tyler, thanks for your take on this. It will be interesting to see if the buzz around Michigan State football increases in the next 2-3 years. Your attendance point is a good one, and if Michigan State continues to recruit well in state, it will only help the program's local profile. Perhaps the model for MSU is Wisconsin, a school that has a lot of buzz for both football and basketball.

East Lansing (Michigan)

We're a football school. Signed, Everybody.

Adam Rittenberg(12:40 PM)

There you have it.

Some interesting responses from Spartans fans. I'll fully admit that as an outsider, I could be wrong with my perception of the program. That's why you're here to set me straight.

Tyler's point about football attendance is valid, as Michigan State ranked 19th nationally in average attendance (73,556) in 2010, 18th nationally in 2009 (74,741) and 20th in 2008 (74,858). Despite the ups and downs of the Michigan State football team, the fans show up in force to Spartan Stadium. This is the best barometer of what really matters. And Izzo has said more than once that despite the basketball program's success, Michigan State is a football school and always will be.

It's an interesting discussion with several variables.

The current national perception is clear: Michigan State is a basketball school because of Izzo's tremendous recent success on the hardwood, not to mention the program's tradition with Jud Heathcote, Magic Johnson, Greg Kelser and others. You ask most college sports fans about Michigan State and they think of the basketball program.

But they're outsiders.

A large percentage of Michigan State fans firmly believe it's a football school with a team that simply hasn't performed consistently enough. They say the football identity has always been there despite the on-field flux. The Spartans were a football powerhouse in the 1950s and 1960s. They boast six national championships (four as a Big Ten member) and seven Big Ten titles.

Age is another factor. Michigan State has won only three Big Ten football titles since 1978 and endured a 20-year gap between titles before the 2010 squad broke through. Since I moved to Big Ten country in 1999, Michigan State basketball has been huge, while Spartans football is only re-emerging now.

Do current Michigan State students and recent graduates identify more with the hoops program than the football program?

There's also media coverage. I check news outlets throughout the Big Ten year-round for lunch links and the like, and Michigan State basketball certainly gets more ink than Spartans football. Perhaps this doesn't truly reflect fan interest, but it's a relevant barometer. While Mark Dantonio's program undoubtedly will generate more buzz with more success, more wins against rival Michigan and more in-state recruiting triumphs, the basketball program seems to be the bigger newsmaker.

Spartans fans, let's hear from you on this topic.

Michigan State: Football school or basketball school?