It’s because of this willingness to change, that the residents of Austin, and specifically, fans of the University of Texas have so easily dealt with the transistion of the sporting climate at their beloved university.
You see, in Texas, there’s family, there’s God and there’s football – not necessarily in that order. But given the recent inability to put a succesful team on the field, football has fallen by the wayside and basketball is the new flavor of the month for Longhorn fans. According to some, Texas is now even a "basketball school".
Jeff Gronewald, who was born and raised in Austin and graduated from the University of Texas, has said the transistion has been tough, but he’s excited about the basketball program’s future.
"February has been a weird month for me. I usually spend about 10-12 hours a day on Orangebloods.com talking about the recruits from national signing day and speculating about the depth chart for spring football, but not this year. We’re a basketball school now and Randy Barnes and the rest of boys have my full attention."
Upon being told that the coach’s name is actually Rick Barnes, Gronewald stated, "Yeah, I’m still kind of just learning about this whole basketball thing. Did you know we made the Final Four several years ago?"
Michael Donovan, a 27-year-old Indiana resident and proud Texas fan, sees things a different way.
"I’ve been a fan of Texas football for as long as I can remember, which is probably since 2003," Donovan said. "I didn’t go to Texas or anything and have never been to Austin, but I’m telling you, I bleed burnt orange man. Texas is supposed to be a football school and I don’t know if I can continue my allegiance if they’re going to be known as a basketball school. I’m going to feel pretty stupid if I have to throw out all this UT gear I bought on line."
Locally, most fans have been more accepting of the school’s transition to becomming a basketball school. Even some of Texas’ most prominent fans are adapting well to the whole "basketball school" thing.
"Say man, did you know I scored courtside seats?" said actor Matthew McConaghey, a long time Texas supporter. "I’m tellin’ ya brother, I feel just like Jack Nicholson at a Lakers game. They wanted to move me to a luxury box after I got wasted and puked on the court, but I’m too cool not to be sittin’ courtside."
The culture change with fans is only one aspect of the Longhorn shift. The economic implications have been both a cause of concern, but also an opportunity for diversified growth.
An official with the Texas athletics department, who requested to remain anonymous, said he’s both excited and frightened by the change of focus of Longhorn fans.
"We’ve been able to fill up Darrell K. Royal stadium pretty often and we’ve pumped a lot of money into that stadium. Once the bandwagoners started to bail on us toward the end of last season, there were a lot of empty seats. Normally, we’d be more concerned about how this affected our bottom line, but we’re Texas, so money isn’t really an issue. Hell, we can probably pay people to fill up those seats if we don’t meet our projected season ticket renewals."
On the glass half full side of things, the official stated that the Erwin Center, where the basketball team plays, will see significant upgrades.
"Now that we’re a basketball school, it’s time we started alocating our resources like one. We’ve got so much money coming down the pike from this Longhorn Network deal that we can really turn the Erwin Center into a first class facility. We’ve already discussed replacing every seat with La-Z-Boy recliners and putting in an indoor waterpark. I mean, we have the money, so why not?"
Not all Longhorn fans, however, are so eager to accept that Texas is now a basketball school.
"It just ain’t right man. Texas is known for its football and we should be known as a football school," said Gus Porter, a 29-year football season ticket holder. "Do you have any idea how embarrassing it was that Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor, TCU, SMU and UTEP all made bowl games last year and we didn’t? We get the first pick of the best talent in the country."
After suffering a crushing defeat at Nebraska over the weekend, the Longhorns return home to host Iowa State on Tuesday night.
"I can’t tell you anything about Iowa State’s basketball team, but they kicked our asses on the football field last fall," said Porter. "I don’t remember much about that day, but I do remember I drank a case of Lonestars, blacked out and woke up in Greg Davis’ backyard with a knife and a shovel."