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Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Can Ponies finally capture community?

By Jeff Caplan

DALLAS -- Disconcerting winds are howling all around the SMU football program.

Nationally, college athletics creeps closer to major realignment and threatens to further bury non-BCS conference programs like the Mustangs. SMU coach June Jones said schools like his better start thinking out of the box or "we'll be left behind."

Locally, all is not calm, either. SMU athletic director Steve Orsini is feverishly pounding the pavement attempting to boost ticket sales that he described as "flat" for the upcoming season. The hard sell has come as a bit of a surprise to the athletics department, considering Jones' team easily boasts the most promising SMU squad in decades after already accomplishing consecutive bowl appearances for the first time since the mid-1980s.

But if locals won't get on board -- attendance in 2010 increased by only 2,167 to an average of 23,315 last year, leaving some 9,000 empty seats at picturesque Ford Stadium -- then what hope is there for SMU to raise its profile nationally like its neighbor to the west?

All good things take time, and TCU coach Gary Patterson will tell you that (Fort Worth didn't turn purple overnight). Unfortunately for SMU, a potential massive shift toward four 16-team super-conferences -- predicted by Jones to happen within 24 months -- yields little time for incremental growth.

"It's very important for our community and all the things that are happening in college athletics today," Orsini said of growing the bandwagon. "The timing is just right. It's time for SMU to get back into the national landscape, to be relevant again. I believe we're accomplishing that and, yet, we still have a long way to go."

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