Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post The Georgia-Florida Gathering of Temperance and Togetherness

Tuesday May 16, 2006

Since Adam and Eve, the appeal of the forbidden fruit hasn’t changed. The best thing that can happen to an entertainer now is to have some authoritative stuffed shirt try to silence them, and acts from Elvis to Marilyn Manson have made successful careers out of cashing in on controversy.

So when UGA President Michael Adams put out a weak request that CBS drop references to the “World’s Greatest Outdoor Cocktail Party”, it was predictable that the outcome would be to give fresh legs to the previously-stale nickname for the Georgia-Florida game. I can’t recall seeing very much merchandise or many promotional items in Jacksonville in recent years using the name, but that’s all going to change thanks to Dr. Adams. Watch the explosion of t-shirts and banners and anything a merchant can slap the “WLOCP” name on this season.

The ABH wonders correctly just what would change if everyone did agree to drop the nickname. Nothing, of course. Fans would still enjoy a beach weekend. Students (shhhh…don’t tell) would still leave during the week to head down. And, yes, even a spirited foot-ball contest with patrons picnicking behind their automobiles would still take place. Call it what you’d like; I’ll still be on Amelia Island for a week with some fishing, beach time, and the Dawgs.

Why go after the Cocktail Party? After all, it’s just an unofficial nickname used by fans and media. Unlike the Oklahoma-Texas Red River Shootout (which recently decided to drop the “Shootout” part), there is no sponsorship, trademark, or involvement from either school, and we know there would never be official sanction for the Cocktail Party.

The answer is perception. UGA is fighting an overzealous war of perception right now, and athletics is an easy target and foil. The war of perception begins with phrasing the issue as a question of athletics versus academic priorities (stop me if you’ve heard this before). Why…you wouldn’t want to be the yokel who would take the side of athletics over academics, would you? This is such a successful tactic that even Florida AD Jeremy Foley has to bluster about Florida’s stance on the issue. Hrm, um, well…we too would never want our proud University to be associated with something so base as a cocktail party (aside from the stadium suites, of course).

The climate on the UGA campus now is reactionary when it comes to academic reputation. A critical observation last year that UGA students might not spend as much time at study as their peers added to the disgrace of the Cole/Harrick scandal has the academic leadership hypersensitive to any perception that classes are too easy or that academic excellence is not the highest priority for the University. It’s silly to have to make this clarification, but the presence of other priorities outside of the serious pursuit of education – even if indulgent and fun – does not make the University into a diploma mill, and the recognition and enjoyment of those other priorities are not contrary to high academic standards.

But UGA must keep up appearances, and that’s exactly what’s going on. Window-dressing. UGA has seen lots of this lately as folks fall over each other showing how serious they are about academics. There’s the Key – a publication showing the grade distribution for professors used by some to find easier classes and professors. Instead of asking the professor to stop handing out As like candy, UGA will just stop publication of the Key and obscure the information. Perception. Window-dressing. Then there’s Fall Break. Students for decades have headed south for the Georgia-Florida weekend, and the semester system made it possible in the late 1990s to time a short midterm break to coincide with the Florida game. But that too has been attacked because of the perception that the game is more important than attending classes. You’re going to have a Fall Break regardless, and you’d think that timing that break around an event that’s important to much of the University community would be a wise application of common sense, but to the academic leadership it’s just another endorsement of the party school image. More window-dressing.

Kept within the small scope of University minutiae like Fall Break, this perception battle might be successful. We all want UGA to have a shining reputation in everything it does. This Cocktail Party story has become a national joke though, and it illustrates perfectly how ridiculous this climate has become. Georgia’s academic leadership now has a perception problem of their own as they become the butt of this joke – not the guardians of academic integrity but rather a bunch of stuck-up sourpusses who make Doug Neidermeyer seem like a fun guy.

Last weekend, the University of Georgia had a record number of First Honor Graduates – those who completed their degrees with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Over 40 graduates earned this honor. Given the tougher and tougher requirements for admission to the University, we might expect and celebrate this outcome. The quality of student is just better now, but I’m waiting for someone to use the record number of perfect GPAs as another example of how loose academic standards are at UGA. That’s just how things are now on campus, and the insecure pursuit of approval from God-knows-whom is getting pathetic.

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