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Big moments helping Georgia State sports grow
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Big moments helping Georgia State sports grow
Big moments helping Georgia State sports grow
By: Doug Roberson
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
6:48 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015 | Filed in: Georgia State

Chris Schmidt grew up a fan of the Georgia Bulldogs.

Even though you are enrolled at Georgia State, many people didn’t care about the Panthers’ athletic programs.

And then R.J. Hunter and the Panthers defeated Baylor in the second round of the NCAA tournament. He started paying attention. And then the football team beat Georgia Southern to reach 6-6 and will play in the Cure Bowl on Saturday in Orlando. Schmidt now has more Georgia State T-shirts than he does Georgia.

[Image: IMG_3255.jpg]
The victory over Georgia Southern helped Georgia State clinch a spot in its first bowl game.

“I’m invested in Georgia State as a student,” he said. “I will always love the Bulldogs. That’s tradition and family. But Georgia State is me.”

Schmidt is an example of the students and Atlanta natives that Georgia State’s athletic department is trying to convert into merchandise-buying, ticket-purchasing, donation-giving fans.

“A lot of stories and a lot of possibilities come from a win like this, which is very similar to what happened in the Baylor game,” Georgia State athletic director Charlie Cobb said.

In the bookstore on Saturday, fans who would later walk across the street to attend a men’s basketball game against Old Dominion could he heard asking if there were any more T-shirts printed for the Georgia Southern game. Others were discussing travel plans to the Cure Bowl. Clothing and gift sales in the campus’ main bookstore have increased more than 30 percent each year-over-year, which Georgia State athletics said can be partially attributed to the success of the men’s basketball and football teams.

In cyberspace, the two biggest months for the the athletic department’s facebook page were March (975,298 impressions) and December (467,329 and counting). The average in other months is around 150,000.

These are the moments that Cobb and athletics are going to try build on in the first months of 2016. Cobb said one area of focus will be identifying and engaging more of those fans like Schmidt. Another will be discussions with all the stakeholders in athletics to identify and take action on the things that need to be done to keep the success growing across all 15 sports.

Using football as an example of what will be discussed to create sustainable success; Cobb said several things may be on the table, including increasing staffing for strength and conditioning, and adding a liaison to strengthen developing relationships with high schools in Atlanta.

“We went from hoping that we could compete with some teams to this year proving we can compete with upper echelon,” Cobb said. “Now it’s building a sustainable program. The Atlanta fan base will come with it.”

The excitement that Schmidt and others are feeling is similar to what happened to the supporters of Appalachian State as it turned into a FCS power in football with three national titles and the famous win over Michigan, said Rick Beasley, who was the Mountaineers development director during that spell and is now in a similar position at Georgia State.

Miles and Cobb said they have experienced first-hand the positive buzz on campus, with professors, provosts and others sharing their delight at the success sports is having.

“It’s the fun part of being at the bottom stage and seeing it develop and seeing the pride people are taking in football and the athletic department, all our programs,” football coach Trent Miles said. “It’s going to keep growing as Georgia State grows.”

But the winning can’t stop.

Cobb said it’s important that the football team win the Cure Bowl because a winning 7-6 record is better than a losing 6-7 record. If Georgia State can win that, and the other three Sun Belt teams that are playing in bowls can win their games, it will improve of the conference in the Group of Five standings.

A winning record will also continue the bump the football team is experiencing in recruiting with smiling faces replacing the ambivalence that came from the team’s 2-33 record the previous three seasons.

“It’s a viable program,” Cobb said. “A kid doesn’t need to drive 4, 5, 6 hours away to go to school. Mom can live where she lives and drive down and watch her son play.”

Winning is part of the key to sustaining the growth of the fan base.

Schmidt said he is considering buying season tickets for football next year because he is interested in watching the program goes.

But if the football team can’t sustain the success with another bowl game, his interest may wane.

“Anything less than five wins and this could be a one-hit wonder,” he said.

And winning is part of the key to the future success of the athletic department as it relates to whatever fund-raising will be needed should Georgia State win the bidding for Turner Field.

Cobb said that Turner Field will transform all of Georgia State’s athletics, another very large stepping stone that can be added to the win over Baylor, the appearance in the national championship tournament for beach volleyball, and the appearance in the Cure Bowl.

“I can’t overemphasize enough we have tremendous aspirations,” Cobb said.
12-21-2015 02:56 PM
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