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Campus spirit fails to impress

By Derek Lazzaro

Dec. 1, 2004 9:00 p.m.

Before I even begin, I need to make a full disclosure. I am not
a UCLA football fan. In fact, I’m rooting for the other team.
Yea ““ that other team.

Before you call me a traitor, let me say I have good reason for
my allegiance: I come from a USC family. My parents went to USC,
and my grandfather has worked there for 50 years as a senior vice
president and vice president emeritus.

And besides, it’s fun to root for a team that actually
wins games.

From my perspective, USC simply does a better job of making
people feel like they are part of the family ““ the Trojan
Family.

In order to compete, UCLA needs to realize that developing
school spirit is about much more than winning games and fund
raising ““ it’s about the students.

A lot of people are under the impression that winning records
immediately translate into bigger donations. But a quick look at
the charts shows UCLA fund-raising has risen dramatically since the
mid-’90s ““ yet the UCLA football program has been
deflating since 1998.

And despite sad performances from its big sports teams, UCLA
receives an average of $250 million a year in private donations.
For a public school, that compares well to USC’s average of
$350 million.

Rick Purdy, UCLA’s associate director of development, told
me every study he has seen shows no real correlation between sports
success and gift giving.

Although winning doesn’t directly correlate with gift
giving, UCLA is undervaluing the importance of school spirit. Keep
in mind, the donors of today were the students of yesteryear
““ they are the ones who remember the glory days of Wooden
basketball or the times when UCLA football was quite good.

And these alumni probably had a lot more school spirit than
today’s students. Case in point, let’s compare last
months’s homecoming weekend to USC’s homecoming
weekend.

The UCLA Homecoming Parade drew at best a couple thousand people
““ several people I talked to didn’t even know it
happened. It’s a weak tradition that was even discontinued
for a while because it meant so little to the campus as a
whole.

In contrast, I saw probably 100,000 people on campus at
USC’s recent homecoming. The campus was literally filled wall
to wall with people partying till the sun went down. If you
haven’t seen an entire campus community come together in one
place, you can’t imagine what that looks like.

Back at UCLA, how many students were given ample warning to
purchase a ticket for Saturday’s big game? Ticket sales were
over before I heard a single word about it. And as for the car
smash and bonfire? One word: uninspiring.

But it doesn’t necessarily take winning teams to improve
school spirit.

Yes, a nationally ranked team can help by putting a university
in the spotlight.

The school logo is splashed on merchandise and TV screens across
the country. That can help attract academic talent, sports talent,
and it certainly doesn’t hurt fund-raising.

But even if its teams aren’t national champions, UCLA
should improve the campus spirit ““ if for no other reason
than to make the campus a more engaging place. Much like a
fraternity, a strong campus community can foster friendship and
camaraderie and make “school” seem more like home.
School spirit among today’s class is the key to fund-raising
in the future.

As for me personally, I’m going to continue enjoying USC
football. But someday, if everything works according to plan,
I’ll make some big donations to both USC and UCLA.

Lazzaro really loves both USC and UCLA. He just wishes UCLA
would be more receptive to his advances. E-mail him a
[email protected]

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