In my early 20s, I worked in communications for a multi-million dollar nonprofit in my hometown of Austin.
All paradoxes aside, part of my responsibilities was to attend these lame social media classes taught by older people who actually didn’t know the difference between Vine and TikTok. Imagine the 2017 Houston Astros taking a professional development course on how to cheat. Kind of a waste, right? I mean, they’re already experts...I digress.
In any case, one of the buzzwords my teacher routinely and mirthfully mouthed was “social listening,” which is a fancy way to say “paying attention to what people are saying on social media about certain topics or brands.” To me, we already were doing that essentially every time we logged in, I mean, how do you scroll through your timeline and ignore everything you see? What would be the point of that?
At any rate, as managing editor of Viva the Matadors for nearly four years now, I’ve had ample opportunity to “social listen” on the topic of Texas Tech football, and I’ve regrettably started to notice some concerning trends that have amplified a great deal over the last year or so.
In the last six seasons, Tech has mustered a winning record just one time - back in 2015 under Kliff Kingsbury when we finished 7-6 and got massacred by LSU in the Texas Bowl. After a 1-3 start to 2020, we’re right on track to continue our filthy habit of finishing seasons below .500. The subsequent fan engagement patterns emerging from this era of disappointment are becoming increasingly evident, if you just pay attention.
Here’s the cycle I’ve keyed in on over the last decade:
But after the novelty of the Matt Wells era wore off (which happened much quicker than I expected) the cycle has started to evolve a bit. The preseason optimism is fading considerably. The early-season underachieving is no longer surprising Tech fans. The midseason surrender is happening after three games instead of six.
As depressing as the above graphic seems, it actually was what separated Texas Tech from Kansas. Our blithe optimism and unrealistic expectations commanded a certain level of play from the Red Raiders. If we weren’t going to win the Big 12, fine, but let’s at least muster enough wins to qualify for a NOGAS Bowl (No One Gives a Shit) and hope that it’s in a fun city.
The standard at Kansas, however, is to not go winless in conference play. My roommate is a die-hard Jayhawk fan and a KU grad, and while he watches every football game his alma mater plays, he never talks about contending for a Big 12 title, let alone a spot in a bowl game. He just wants to beat Coastal Carolina and reminisce about the late 2000s when Chris Harris and Aqib Talib were holding down the Jayhawk secondary. The day Kansas finishes second-to-last in the Big 12 will be a happy day in Lawrence, indeed.
This sounds painfully similar to what Texas Tech fans do on social media in 2020. All Red Raiders talk about these days is the late 2000s when Mike Leach, Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell had this team relevant. And instead of fantasizing about bowl game destinations, our 5-11 record over the last 16 games has manually shifted our focus to just avoiding last place in the conference.
The other move Tech fans are taking out of the Kansas playbook is the justification of our bad football team by pointing toward the success of our basketball team. We may be horrible at football, but at least we went to the Final Four. How do you like that, Longhorn fans?
I’ve conducted a few social media polls asking Red Raider fans if they would sacrifice the quality of the football team to win multiple Big 12 basketball championships and even a national championship. The answer was a resounding “no,” which was a bit surprising to me. To deny the chance to be the greatest basketball team in the country in favor of winning six football games a year is a bit illogical to me, but this is Texas, and football apparently is more important than sustained greatness in any other sport.
But I’m not seeing that sentiment on display right now. Instead of indignance, I’m seeing indifference. Instead of anger, I’m seeing apathy.
Saturday’s convincing loss to Iowa State was a wake-up call in a lot of ways. Since 2013, Iowa State has failed to win more than three games in four seasons. The Cyclones were nearly indistinguishable from the Jayhawks. Yet even in one of the least talent-rich areas in the country in one of the least desirable places to live in the Big 12, Iowa State found a way to turn things around, while Texas Tech continued to trend in the wrong direction.
It got me thinking:
Cellar-dwelling Iowa State has shown the ability to rebuild. Lowly Kansas State has shown the ability to rebuild. In fact, every school in the Big 12 has shown this ability over the last decade.— ~Viva the Spooky-dors~ (@vivathematadors) October 10, 2020
Every school except Kansas....and Texas Tech.
Look it up, friends. I tell no lies. Texas Tech and Kansas are the only schools not to truly be in the conversation for at least one Big 12 title in the last decade. Baylor turned it around, TCU turned it around, Kansas State, Iowa State...West Virginia had a Hesiman contender, Oklahoma State has won at least 10 games six times since 2010...the list goes on. But Kansas and Texas Tech...that’s a different story.
This article is not a hit-piece on Matt Wells or the Texas Tech program as a whole. I graduated from Tech in 2014 and have a great deal of pride in my alma mater. I didn’t want to write this piece, but there comes a time where you have to call attention to a negative trend you’re seeing to avoid spiraling into oblivion.
This is a call to action. This is a challenge to Tech fans drifting into the Kansas slumber of complacency to wake up and put an end to the moral victories and appeals to the quality of our basketball team. It doesn’t have to be this way. If every other school in the Big 12 can rebuild their program into formidable contenders, then Tech has no excuse not to do the same.
The reason Texas Tech is the new Kansas isn’t because of the failure of the football team on the field. It’s because Tech fans expect mediocrity and almost embrace it in this self-deprecating manner, and instead of demanding better, welcome the “woe is me” humor of it all and allay the pain by dreaming about the limitless potential of our basketball team.
That’s Kansas. It doesn’t have to be Texas Tech.
Let’s fix the cycle of fan engagement. Let’s bring the same intensity we have for the first game of the season to each of the proceeding contests. Let’s not fast-forward to basketball season.
There will be fans who read the headline of this article and say, “You’re hurting our reputation with recruits.” No, you are. When you stop caring about Texas Tech football after three losses, you don’t show up for games and recruits see empty stadiums on FS1, you’re hurting recruiting. When you laugh off a 15-point loss to one of the Big 12’s worst teams of the 2010s, you’re hurting recruiting. When you tweet you gave up on Tech football and only care about basketball, you’re hurting recruiting.
It’s going to take everyone changing our attitudes and raising our expectations. We’re Kansas right now, but we don’t have to be for long.
Command excellence. Provide support. Revive the program.
It all starts now.