It passed without much notice or comment on this site, but last week something very significant happened related to the Auburn football program. The Board of Trustees, departing from its planned agenda, in essence told President Leath to get moving on a football-only facility.
What happens next remains to be seen. But at least some of the powers that be seem to grasp the importance of the football program as - to borrow a phrase others have used - "the front porch of the university." No one should ever think that Auburn's primary mission is anything other than providing a first-rate education for its students. But a successful football program can do wonders to help that mission by raising the university's public profile and the level of support, financial and otherwise, from Auburn's alumni, friends and supporters. The immediate planning for the new facility now lies in the hands of a committee appointed by Dr. Leath.
What has taken so long? Why is Auburn, whose athletic leaders have repeatedly assured us is in the business of competing for championships, falling behind some of its primary rivals when it comes to facilities? As far as the football program is concerned, some reports indicate that certain boosters have been reluctant to commit their money because they lack confidence in Gus Malzahn. And, to be sure, Gus's uneven performance on the field, which includes both stunning and historic victories and too many baffling losses, gives everyone cause for concern. The most obvious thing Gus can do to help his own cause is win more games and thereby prove himself capable of fielding teams that compete, year-in and year-out, for championships instead of going 7-5 or 8-4 for several years in a row with an occasional title run tossed in here and there. This year he'll have to do it against a brutal schedule with a brand-new quarterback. How he fares is anyone's guess, but after the disappointments of 2018 and other years it's fair to say that this is a make-or-break season for Gus.
Regardless of what happens this season, however, and regardless of who is coaching Auburn football in 2020, it's essential that the university leaders press ahead with the football-only facility for the good of the program and the university as a whole. The best parallel I can draw from Auburn football history is the construction of the east side upper deck in Jordan-Hare, which opened in 1987. The Board of Trustees approved that project just two days after we suffered a devastating upset defeat to a sorry Alabama team in the 1984 Iron Bowl, capping a four-loss season that we began as the number one ranked team in the country. The Board members back then were able to look beyond that short-term disappointment and see what an expanded stadium would mean for the program in the long run. An even better example of this type of thinking is the decision to build Auburn Arena at a time when our basketball team consistently ranked among the worst in the SEC. Does anybody think our basketball program would be where it is today, and have the leadership it has today, if we were still playing in Beard-Eaves? So while we watch what happens on the field in 2019, let's keep our focus on the big picture, as embodied in the progress on the football-only facility. We are at pivotal moment in the history of our football program, and which path our leaders choose during the next few months will likely determine how we fare for many years to come.
War Eagle, always.