Why MSU is a football school, more than a basketball school

Each time I refer to Michigan State as a “football school”, or as not being a basketball school — as I did at the end of Sunday’s LSJ column — I get a smattering of emails or tweets disagreeing or questioning my logic.

It’s never meant as a slap at Tom Izzo or MSU’s basketball program. It’s simply a matter of fact, at least by how I define a football or basketball school.

It has nothing to do with success. And everything to do with interest.

At Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Kansas, etc., more fans care more deeply about hoops than football. Therefore, they are basketball schools.

At MSU, as with Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Florida — all very accomplished basketball programs — the interest is more widespread and intense with football. You can be an elite basketball program and be a football school.

It’s regional, as much as anything. There are no basketball-first universities in Michigan. Not among those that play football.

Whereas, south of I-80 in Illinois and Indiana, there no football-first Division I schools (other than Eastern Illinois).

The internet age of journalism — for all of its detriment — has given us greater evidence of this. We see the stats.

MSU football stories, by and large, are far more read than basketball stories. Same for U-M, which is no surprise.

Fewer people view Illinois football content, however, than do Illini basketball.

So, when I write that MSU is a football school, I get that the Spartans have been to six Final Fours since the school’s last Rose Bowl. But I also know, as a whole, the fan base wishes it were the other way around.

Izzo agrees.

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55 Responses to Why MSU is a football school, more than a basketball school

  1. avatar David Hames says:

    Don’t you need to conduct a more scientific survey of stakeholders to make such a claim? It sounds more like your gut reaction than a valid statement.

  2. avatar Graham Couch says:

    A very fair question. This is definitely not a gut reaction. This is several years of either seeing or knowing readership numbers at places that cover MSU, Michigan and Illinois specifically. This is a football-first state, too. Nothing is read more than coverage of the Detroit Lions. And page views are pretty good survey.

    MSU might be one of the top five basketball programs in the country. Just as the University of Michigan once was, 20 years ago. But even when the Fab Five were on campus a few years after winning a national title, that was a football school.

    • avatar Spartan 81 says:

      October was supposed to be a cakewalk, turned out its the start of a guantlet. If we have any championship aspirations we have to run the table in October. If we want to have a successfull season we have to be 6-2 at a minimum on October 27th. , the game is critical if we dont win it we have to run the table and we put ourselves in a deep hole. Graham do you think MSU is at least 6-2 at the end of October?

      • avatar ChuckfromSt.Johns says:

        your language is identical to Spartan81 on another blog???

        • avatar Spartan 81 says:

          Cause I am the same guy and it’s the same message maybe you are right I will concede that I just want to let these next four games play out and see what our record is on Oct 27. What is the problem with that?

    • avatar Mark says:

      the fab five did not win a national title….

    • avatar TruGhostofBo says:

      If Coach D and Co, can’t get this current football team pointed in the right direction, the fanometer may swing toward hoops. From what I’ve seen much of the commentary, is negative, although many are UM fans, stirring the pot…

      • avatar reality check says:

        MSU reminds me of the Chicago Cubs and the similarities are quite interesting.
        Every year is the year for MSU but new players fail them constantly, fans always show up hoping for a win but leave after a loss, wondering why they just wasted their Saturday on the Spartans yet again.
        Oh, don’t tell me this year is going to be different because it’s not..
        So where does U of M fall into place here? Well, clearly they’re the better program; the greatest actually.
        No you say? Well they do have the most wins, highest win percentage, most undefeated seasons and are they only program to have winning records against every conference in the NCAA..
        Michigan is showing signs of dominance At the moment, they have the No. 1 offense in the country led by superstar Devon Gardner
        MSU will be mediocre at best, just like every year, and U of M will once again be put on the spot every single week. Saturday the two teams will face off in Ann Arbor.
        My prediction for November 2 Michigan 19 MSU 7.

        • avatar Spartan 81 says:

          The game is in E Lansing Nov 2 check your facts reality check and Gardner will not get 19 points against our defense.

          • avatar D Reilly says:

            Michigan will blow out the Spartans. The D will be worn out by the fourth quarter for being on the field too long against a far superior offense, better players, better coaching. Unfortunate, but the truth. . .

          • avatar MSU Owns Beilien says:

            hey D Reilly, Michigan’s offense stinks, they’ll keep going 3 and out and from what I’ve seen of Michigan’s defense, State’s offense will finally look good. Michigan = overrated as usual

          • avatar Chip says:

            This mans an idiot Michigan had horible performances against Akron and Conneticut Mochigan Will be lucky to gey 5 wins this year

          • avatar MSU Owns Beilein says:

            and D Reilly or should I say Floyd Carr, still bitter about that Appy St loss costing you your job ?

        • avatar Jonny says:

          “Michigan is showing signs of dominance at the moment”

          I really shouldn’t even validate a delusional fan like yourself but you can’t be serious. Deathly struggles against the likes of Akron and UConn, two teams that are horrible teams by any measure (Sorry, Zip and UConn fans.). And I hate to break it to you, but Norte Dame just isn’t that good this year. See you in November…

          • avatar MSU Owns Beilien says:

            Jonny, Mark comes on here and spews all kinds of stuff he knows nothing about, don’t take him too seriously, hell when he said Gardner was a good QB you knew he was delusional.

        • avatar TruGhostofBo says:

          Like I said,
          stirring the pot:
          Winning percent: College Football Data Warehouse says you’re wrong.
          1 Notre Dame (IN) 0.73303
          2 Michigan 0.73291

          Your Gulo’s are also the losingest team playing in the Rose Bowl. Within 1 game of accounting for 1/3 or all the losses of the Big in the Rose Bowl. Almost twice as many Rose Bowl losses as wins.. Enduring, isn’t it????

          Yup, Brady Hoax Ewe of Em Woolverines “football” teams will, return to their thrilling days of yesteryear, getting sheared in a bowl game, again.

        • avatar MSU Owns Beilien says:

          My God Mark, at least know where the game was played, and when Gardner throws all those picks, he may end up with 300 yards passing if you include MSU’s return yardage HAHAHHAHAHA Superstar Gardner has more INT’s then TD’s and leads all of football in turnovers, can’t WAIT for him to get eaten up by the best defense in the land…..and they aren’t even close to the # 1 offense in the country, you been spending too much time with drunk brandstatter

        • avatar headeast says:

          Michigan is nothing more than a overinflated historical program, their games should be broadcast on the history channel, for that is all they have left…

        • avatar Otis Johnson says:

          Number 1 offense in the country? UM? What site are you looking at? Apparently you are another delusional Wolverqueen fan trolling MSU pages. Your probably are right about MSU as a mediocre football team, but UM is the most overrated football team the last 20 years. You also played Ivy league schools mostly in the first 25 year s of your existence. But since 1935, UM has only won 3 national titles, same as MSU. As for that game Nov.2nd

        • avatar Chip says:

          I meant Michigan will be lucky yo get 7 wins 5 losses

  3. avatar Spanish Spartan says:

    I’m not sure how you track readership of specific articles, but even if you’re right there are many competing hypotheses that have merit. And they don’t suggest that MSU is more of a football school than a basketball school. For example, the population seems to like negative news about anything more than it likes positive news – about anything. And the news about basketball has been a lot more positive than the news about football, throughout the state, for many years.

    • avatar Mace says:

      sprts are dfferent hw many tmes yu wace ep excated tu read abut gettng beat? then hw mach yu read after a w?

    • avatar Graham Couch says:

      In tracking readership over time, it’s pretty clear. Even the NCAA tournament audience for MSU hoops is less than football, in general. Obviously, certain articles or times when the fan base is upset, generate more traffic. The problem with hypotheses that have anything to do with success over a decade or two is that it creates the possibility that UNC or Kansas then could become football schools, with a good run in the sport. Michigan is a football-first state. We’re all entitled to our own opinion, but to me, there’s a difference between being an elite basketball program and a basketball school. Florida is an elite basketball program. It is, without question, a football school.

      • avatar Spartan 81 says:

        Agreed, Football is king untill Nov 15 even when the team is struggling, basketball knocks out football though after the season starts if the football team is out of contention

        Graham what do you think MSU chances are of being 3-1 in October? Heading into November at 6-2 is critical to have a shot at 8 wins in my opinion,

  4. avatar Don k. says:

    The vast majority of friends, co-workers, family I talk to are much more interested in basketball than football. I also am a football fan, but I seldom miss watching a basketball game. Perhaps it does have to do with how successful each program is nationally and in the BIG 10. How many football fans view the MSU football program as national contenders?

    • avatar Graham Couch says:

      Success, in my opinion (and others, Izzo’s too), isn’t a good barometer. As I wrote in an above comment, there’s a difference between being an elite basketball program and a basketball school. Florida is an elite basketball program. It is, without question, a football school. Being a football school can be seen in school’s finances, too, by how pronounced the difference in football and hoops revenue is.

  5. avatar Richie C says:

    Seems like this is more of an issue of America being a football country. Hoops will always be in the backseat to football. The programs that you list as “basketball” schools also seems to coincide with all of those football programs being pretty awful, especially as of late. Kansas is awful, IU’s program has been a mess for the last decade or so, Kentucky is typically the laughing stock of the SEC, Illinois is coming off a 2 win season.

    I think it’s silly to try and make a distinction between football and basketball schools when football is, by a wide margin, the most popular sport in the US. If MSU still employed John L and had suffered through years of losing seasons then we’d almost certainly be lumped in with the Bball schools.

  6. avatar John Hannah... Thank You! says:

    Every SPARTAN fan NEEDS to read “Arrogance and Scheming in the Big Ten”…
    by David J. Young, M.D. and then you will KNOW that MSU is INDEED everything that it is because of Football and one FANTASTIC MAN… Mr. John Hannah… then you will also know why we are Spartans and not “Sparty”…. (Sparty is the Bronze Statue…. Sparty is the Mascot… We Are SPARTANS)…. Tom Izzo…. to whom I’m as grateful for as John Hannah…. would definitely agree…. and we have the BEST Basketball Program in the Country…. Bar None!
    Let’s Go State! Let’s Go State! Let’s Go State! ….

  7. avatar desert rat jim says:

    Seems like a bold comment like this should have some statistical data to support it!

  8. avatar Calchris says:

    As an old schooler I go with history….recent history. Yes, I kinda remember 1966. It’s a hazy memory. Very hazy. I was 12. But my memory gets better when I think of MSU basketball. 1979-2000 were championships. Won outright with Magic and Cleaves. No ties. So when football wins a national championship I’ll reconsider but Sparty is basketball in my book. Sure I watch football in the fall but it’s always basketball that carries me through fall winter and spring. In fact, Sparty Spring 2014 has a nice championship kinda ring to it.

  9. avatar David Lane says:

    But you are wrong having followed Sparty sports since 1972, from the age of six, I can beg to differ. I grew up in southeastern Michigan and have lived in Mexico, Saint Louis, Missouri, North Coast Ohio and now Miami, FL: Michigan State is a basketball school simply because Michigan is a state is hoop producing state i.e. Mark Ingram Jr. is the only Heisman trophy winner etc. Michigan as a state has clearly produced some of hoops greatest to ever play the game. I clearly now that the Wolverines are just another team from Ohio with roster filled with kids and coaches from Fremont (Woodson) to Barberton (Bo). Michigan State is a hoop school like the University of Miami is a football school. Check the rosters! And remember look at the big picture Michigan State University has had 3 basketball coaches during the same stretch that Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin have led the Pittsburgh Steelers to 6 super bowls! Steelers are 0-4 and does Pittsburgh stop being a football city?

    Rev. David L. Lane
    Miami, FLA

  10. avatar SpartanJim says:

    Please omit Michigan from the accomplished basketball schools list. MSU, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Florida are in another league when comparing current (15 years) basketball success to Michigan.

  11. avatar Spartan 81 says:

    D Reilly thought you had more class than that disappointed in you

    • avatar MSU Owns Beilien says:

      Floyd Carr has never really showed class when it comes to sports, but his work at U-M hospital is pretty awesome.

  12. avatar David Lane says:


    just a follow up to my point from Miami, FL: For every one Joe DeLamielleure from the great State of Michigan who ends of up in Canton there are 4 Chet Walkers, Magic Johnsons, Ice Man Gervins and Dave DeBusschere from Benton Harbor to Detroit who one day find themselves in Springfield, Massachusetts!

    Rev. David L. Lane
    Miami, FLA

  13. avatar MSUDersh says:

    I agree, MSU is a football school. It just happens to also have a great basketball program. Not a bad combo!

  14. avatar Chip says:

    For all those who think differently about this post. Face it every year is a year that MSU could win the Big Ten recently. Its no like this team has hooe every yet and they fail like some are saying. One recent year and UofM fans think they are the better team. When in reality Michigan cant even score 15 points on the stud MSU Defence. Once the offence is going this could be a highly elite team.

  15. avatar SJD183 says:

    Like Richie C. said, the United States is simply a football country. In 2006, the average NFL team was worth $957-million, and the NFL as a whole made about $2-billion per year between 2006 and 2011 from networking contracts. Fast forward more than half-a-decade to 2013 — today, the average NBA team is worth $509-million, and the NBA as a whole is expected to make LESS than $1-billion per year over the next five years from networking contracts [all statistics per Forbes].

    In a nation where football reigns supreme, is it really fair to say whether a school is a ‘football school’ or a ‘basketball school’ based on viewership? If that’s the case, then the only ‘basketball schools’ in the country are those that have horrible football programs.

    No disrespect to you, Mr. Couch, but I think calling Michigan State a ‘football school’ despite the football team finishing top-ten in the AP Poll just *twice* in the past four decades is a slap in the face to Tom Izzo.

    Izzo has molded a powerhouse program out of Michigan State with his bare hands. Just this week, Andy Glockner at Sports Illustrated listed Michigan State as the “fifth best current program” in all of college basketball.

    When your football program has been consistently average for nearly a half-century and your basketball program is mentioned alongside the Dukes, Kentuckys, and North Carolinas of the college basketball world, I think it’s safe to say that you have a ‘basketball school.’

    As much as I love college football, nothing screams “Michigan State” like working your way through the snow-storm on Kalamazoo Street in negative-temperatures to get to a toasty, energetic, jam-packed Breslin Center. And all respect to Coach Dantonio, but he’ll never be the legend, icon, practically God, that is [the] Tom Izzo. For those reasons, and many, many more, Michigan State will always be, to me, a ‘basketball school.’

  16. avatar Don K says:

    It is very unfair to keep using Izzo to promote your point of view. What did you expect him to say—–basketball is more important than football? Of course he would give Coach D more credit than to rub his nose in the scenario. Success does matter in the issue.

  17. avatar Rob Yelvington says:

    MSU, Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State all built their football reputations at a time when southern black athletes either didn’t play D-1 football or had to travel north to be stars. Once the Bear Bryants and Adolph Rupps of the world saw what they were missing, they kept their guys at home. MSU’s best teams in the early 60′s were filled with southern star athletes. Those days are gone.

    The days of northern teams winning championships like the SEC does now is about over. Like ND in that championship game last year. For one thing we can’t bend the rules nearly like southern teams will do. Urban is going to take his best swing at it, however.

    MSU should thank their lucky stars ‘bama cancelled that two game series. Anyone recall that bowl game a few years ago. That was embarrassing !

    • avatar reality check says:

      Yes that was ugly, leave those type of games to Michigan, Brady Hoke has the type of athletes who can compete on that national stage .

    • avatar MSU Owns Beilien says:

      Rob, Bama would have been in the title game had they not blown a huge lead to eventual national champ Auburn and Cam Newton. as for Mark, when scUM and shoelocks were down 31-0 to Bama last year did you feel like the turd you really are for scheduling that game ? AHHAHHAHAHHA

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