By Eric Schulte
All eyes at the University of Oregon are focused on one goal this weekend: crushing Stanford and keeping the dream alive. Poised at number two in the nation, the Ducks football program has been in its finest form since the 2010 season. And with only two yet, quite significant, games left the players look to create a very different conclusion to this season’s saga.
Meanwhile, the Ducks basketball squad recently tipped off its own season, featured in a much dimmer spotlight. The Ducks won their first three games quite comfortably against Northern Arizona, Portland State and Vanderbilt, 83-73, 80-69, 74-48 respectively. But even with the massive infrastructural improvement of Matt Knight Arena, the Ducks basketball squad is seriously underachieving.
The most glaring discrepancy between the two squads is fan interest, resulting in much differing levels of support. This discrepancy in popularity isn’t apparent at the UO exclusively; it’s pretty much a trend for the entirety of the Pac-12. Across the conference schools like USC, Stanford and, most recently, Oregon State have all recently produced stronger football squads than their basketball counterparts. Perhaps Northwest fans across the region are witnessing a slow paradigm shift within the culture of collegiate sports.
Besides the general culture swing, Ducks football has another asset which basketball can only dream of: The Pipeline. Since his introduction as offensive coordinator back in 2007, Head Coach Chip Kelly has invested heavily in the Eugene-Texas pipeline. Recent graduate LaMichael James is unarguably Kelly’s most successful lone-star state acquisition. More recently, the Ducks have acquired Texan freshmen brothers Eric and Stephen Amoako and wide receiver Bralon Addison.
The pipeline, combined with Kelly’s brand new, radical speed offense, has created a tornado of momentum pumping Ducks football to new heights never before reached. This momentum has reached such levels that it’s now self-sustaining. Take for example the team’s snag of star running back De’Anthony Thomas from his hometown squad USC back in 2010.
The key acquisition was also facilitated by Kelly’s flexibility regarding Thomas’ position assignment. As one of the nation’s top defensive backs out of high school, Thomas famously chose the University of Oregon so he could transfer over to running back/receiver.
But, the one-sided success of Oregon athletics isn’t a bad position to be in (at all). Through Kelly’s opportunistic offensively, Oregon has acquired a new pedigree of player and essentially a higher growth rate than the basketball side. Give them time, they’ll catch up. Besides, isn’t it better to have one National Championship berth at hand, than none at all?
Basketball head coach Dana Altman is rebuilding from the team left my Ernie Kent. It will take time, but this team will be competing on a national stage eventually. A new arena and Nike backing the team doesn’t hurt, either.