We have reviewed the cultures of several schools across college football to see if Clemson’s culture is as unique as we perceive it to be. We have looked at samples from all the Power Five conferences, and now we will wrap it up by looking at a few remaining examples.
The biggest example from outside the Power Five is obviously Notre Dame. One of the most well-known bluebloods of college football, most people don’t have a middle ground with the Irish – you either love them or you hate them. I’ve had multiple friends over the years who are Irish fans, so I never hated them, but I have observed it from others. Many dislike their continued independence. Sometimes it is because they feel that it is unfair that Notre Dame doesn’t compete in a conference, but sometimes it is more about resentment. Fans perceive that Notre Dame is given special consideration because of their history and financial attractiveness. Bowls will always select them over schools with a better record because they know the Irish will bring in more money. A Power conference like the ACC and the old Big East will allow them to join in every sport except football, and even allow them to take bowl spots from time to time. Because of this resentment, I would expect most Tiger fans wouldn’t believe Notre Dame’s culture would be anywhere close to Clemson’s.
We quickly see two words jump out: ‘God’ and ‘country’. The motto “God, Country, Notre Dame!” is a popular cheer for the Irish faithful. While it is a motto, it is reflective of the Notre Dame culture. The university is viewed as the flagship of all institutions of higher education that are affiliated with the Catholic Church. One of the reasons the fanbase prefers to remain independent is because they view a conference as a regional concept, and they consider Notre Dame to be a national program. After that, we see a lot of words that we saw in Clemson’s cloud: ‘family’, ‘tradition’ and ‘integrity’. We also see ‘education’. Many have pointed to Notre Dame’s high standards for acceptance as a reason why recruiting has been a challenge over the last three decades since the Irish won a national championship, but we see here they still consider education to be important to the school’s culture, along with words like ‘academic’ and ‘commitment’. Notre Dame’s cloud has a lot of things in common with Clemson’s cloud.
I wanted to look at Boise State because they are a great example of a program that has gone from zero to sixty in a short period of time. Until 1968, Boise State was a junior college. They have grown from a Division II school to Division I-AA/FCS, to a full member of the FBS and then into the most heralded example of a Group of Five school that crashed the BCS party in the early part of the 21st century. I was curious what their word cloud would look like. Here it is. Centerpiece is ‘go’. Next most prominent word is ’because’. It was worth a shot. Next.
This is another one that I surveyed because I have a strong tie to the school. My mom graduated from Marshall and I have always pulled for the Herd. Since I have been in a few Marshall groups for a few years, I knew what to expect. Like Boise, Marshall also rose through the ranks to join the FBs after multiple Division I-AA/FCS championships. Unlike Boise, we got a strong centerpiece in this cloud: ‘family’. While some other words featured are generic, one that catches my eye quickly is ‘Huntington’, which is the location of Marshall in West Virginia. Since most of the state is considered Mountaineer territory, the people in the region surrounding Huntington are strongly pro-Marshall. If you know much about the history of the football program or have seen the movie ‘We Are Marshall’, you know why the word ‘crash’ appears near the center of the cloud. That event still influences Marshall culture today – they know how fortunate they are to have a program, and they appreciate it.
I tried a few more schools without much luck. I tried to get a cloud for Army so I could have an example of a military academy, but I just didn’t get much of a response. It’s not surprising – most Group of Five programs don’t have the kind of following that Power programs enjoy. Marshall and Boise State are exceptions to the rule.
Before we start to gather all the things we have learned from this little experiment, I want to make sure everyone understands that this has hardly been a scientifically solid process. As much as I wanted to survey every school out there, it just wasn’t realistic. It took time to join all the groups required to do this survey, and then I had to collect all the answers. I was also at the mercy of each fanbase’s willingness to participate and take the question about their culture seriously.
Also, I want to be clear that just because I question a school’s culture, or the culture of their fanbase, does not mean I am suggesting that the fanbase does not support their school’s athletics. Anyone who doubts that LSU or Nebraska supports their teams is not being objective. The point is that culture is about more than just fan support or how much money your booster club is willing to pump into the program. Culture is about defining the things that are important to you and what you do to prioritize those things. A fanbase can say they have a culture of winning, but that’s a given. Everyone wants to win. Winning doesn’t distinguish the school or fanbase as unique or different in any way, and in my opinion, that defaults to mean the culture isn’t important in the big picture.
What have we learned from all this? The point of the exercise was to compare the word clouds from other universities to Clemson to see if its culture was as unique as we perceive, or if other fanbases perceive their program’s culture similarly. What I have learned is that Clemson’s culture is different from a lot of other major programs, but it isn’t a lone wolf. There are other schools that are family-oriented like Clemson. We saw three schools located in Appalachia that featured ‘family’ as a common descriptor: Virginia Tech, West Virginia & Marshall. We saw two more schools – Notre Dame & BYU – that are closely affiliated with religious organizations that included references to God/Jesus and faith and had several mentions of family. Lastly, we had the most unexpected similar result: the USC Trojans. USC is affiliated with the Methodist Church, but it isn’t considered a ‘religious’ school in the same light as Notre Dame or BYU. Could the distinctness be that USC is a private university instead of state funded? Possibly, but consider Stanford. I didn’t survey the Cardinal fanbase because by reputation, they aren’t considered to be very enthusiastic about their football program. Maybe that was a mistake on my part.
Another trend I noticed is for every blueblood football school that had a definable culture, there were just as many that had a generic culture. I was particularly disappointed by the responses from schools like Nebraska and Texas. To illustrate this point, if I were to take references to Bear Bryant, Roll Tide, TTUN and team colors out of the responses, would you really be able to tell Alabama’s cloud apart from Ohio State’s cloud? By my reckoning Florida State, Notre Dame, USC & Oklahoma had definable cultures, while Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Ohio State, Texas and Nebraska were generic. Michigan existed somewhere in the middle.
We have established that Clemson does have a strong & defined culture among the fanbase. Is that the same culture behind the scenes in the athletic department? Does it flow across all sports or football alone? Does it positively impact the results we see on the field or court, the way we perceive it does?
One more article coming. Stay tuned.