Cincinnati: The Smallest Big-Time Program In Football

David NewmanContributor IDecember 18, 2009

Cincinnati was shut out of the BCS National Championship game this year despite having an unblemished 12-0 record.

There are a number of reasons for this. One is that they just aren't a "big-time" university and not a "big-time" program. Before the Big12 Championship Game, every analyst in the nation would have told you that Texas should go ahead of them. Many would say Cincinnati has no football tradition, that they play in a crappy 35,000 seat hole in the ground. Many people say that they are a "flash-in-the-pan" team that will go back to irrelevance next year.

Brian Kelly left to go to Notre Dame because it was his "dream job," and nationally, people approved. It made sense. Notre Dame could give him more money, better facilities, and most importantly, better recruits. Instead of doing more with less, he could do much more with more.

However, a closer look at the University of Cincinnati will reveal that almost none of these are true. Look at this picture of a packed Nippert Stadium and tell me it doesn't look like a scaled down big time program.

Nationally, people don't think Cincinnati has any tradition in football, much less winning in football. This is half true. The cats are 547-541-51 all time, however they have had five undefeated seasons. Three coaches have gone on to the College Football Hall of Fame, one of whom was Sid Gillman who "made football into the modern game that it is today" according to Wikipedia.

That's something people get caught up in; even fans of Cincinnati. The flashy, high powered, pass-happy offense seems so sleek and sexy, that it can't be from a program old enough to have tradition. Not only is the program the fifth oldest in the country, but over the past sixty years, it has become Cincinnati football.

When Gillman was here (1949-1959), most teams would only throw short passes - either to running backs, or to wide recievers by the sidelines. These were essentially screen passes, but Gillman had a different idea. He wanted to stretch the field, to throw deep. Can you imagine football without the deep ball?

Gillman has another huge legacy as a coach, this one is equally important: film study. Back then, nobody could afford the equipment for it. But he was such a competitor that he bought it himself. He had his teams study film to such an extent that the NCAA ruled he was giving his team an "unfair advantage." He had nearly a .794 record at Cincinnati.

So UC has one legendary coach? They still have no athletic facilities, right? Wrong. The $105,000,000 Lindner Center for Athletics was completed in 2007. By contrast, Notre Dame's brand new athletic center, "The Gug" was $21.25 million and completed in 2005.

The one thing the 'Cats lack: a practice facility. They are currently the only FBS team to practice on the same field they play on. Earlier this month, ground was broken on the new Jefferson Avenue Sports Complex, alleviating that problem.

I touched earlier on tradition, and now I want to get back to it. Cincinnati is part of the oldest rivalry in football - The Victory Bell. The rivalry is between Cincinnati and Miami of Ohio, so it admittedly hasn't been much of a rivalry lately, but a great tradition for both schools nonetheless.

Another great rivalry is the Keg of Nails Rivalry with the Louisville cardinals, who were BCS bound just a few years ago. The Keg is awarded to the winning team - who is as tough as nails.

Other traditions include the "Cat Walk," which is the marching of the band and team through campus before a game, and the entrance of the band itself. Members gather at the top of the student section and sprint into formation on the field while playing the UC fight song.

The James Gamble Nippert Memorial Stadium is one of the smallest in Division IA. It is also one of the oldest. Right now there is talk of rebuilding the stadium,despite it being the home of the Bearcats since 1902. It is one of the most unique stadiums in the country and home to yet another tradition: midnight football.

People think that the Cincinnati football program is little more than OSU's rejects. This has some truth to it. Five years ago, it would be completely true, but not anymore. RB Isaiah Pead chose UC over OSU. Both schools have dual-threat sophomore QBs. UC's was a two-time Ohio High School Football Player of the Year and had a 41-1 record as a starter, including exiting on a 30 game winning streak. OSU's guy was snagged out of Penn State's recruiting territory.

Another misconception is that we don't have the money to keep a coach around. Butch Jones will be the 39th coach in 125 years of football. I can't find the numbers on Kelly's deal with Notre Dame, but according to Wikipedia, Weiss got $2million a year. Cincinnati offered Kelly $3.3million to stay.

So there you have it, everything a big time football program has, Cincinnati has. Whether you're looking for contribution to how the game is played, tradition, recruits, or even facilities, it's all covered.

The one thing that Cincinnati Football was missing was wins, which are now coming. So when you go to watch the "big time" Gators shut out the Cats on January first, or tune in for a beatdown from the Sooners next year, don't be surprised if the Bearcats do actually pull it off, because that's what the big time programs do.