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What is a “Blue Blood” and could Baylor be one?

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What does it take to be a blue blood?

Baylor v Duke Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

You’ve heard the term before. “Blue Blood”. It is used to describe teams like Kansas, UNC and Duke. But what does it mean?

I’m going to get very basic here. The term “blue blood” refers to royalty, or someone of noble birth. Because they didn’t have to do anything, nobility had very pale skin, so their blue veins were extremely visible. So, a basketball blue blood is just that: royalty.

Blue bloods are generally aligned into two categories. Top tier and bottom tier. Top tier blue bloods are untouchable. These include Duke, UNC, Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA and Indiana. (Every year, however, Indiana’s inclusion in this list gets debated more heavily). Blue bloods have sustained high performance, consistently great teams and a long history of winning. You don’t become a blue blood overnight. It takes almost 50 years of continued success.

As Matt Norlander notes here, there are also bottom tier blue bloods. These are teams that also have continued success and multiple championships, but without constant dominance. They usually go through prolonged rough patches in between success. But, of course, a “rough patch” is when they don’t make the tournament for the first time in 15 years. These teams are still really good.

Second tier teams are more fluid, and much more debatable. Second tier teams include:

  • Arizona Wildcats
  • Connecticut Huskies
  • Georgetown Hoyas
  • Louisville Cardinals
  • Michigan Wolverines
  • Michigan State Spartans
  • NC State Wolfpack
  • Syracuse Orange
  • Villanova Wildcats

Like I said, who exactly is included in this list is in constant debate. Does Arizona really belong on that list? Does the current state of Georgetown’s program deserve their removal? Etc…

But, as you may have noticed, this list does not contain the Baylor Bears. You shouldn’t be surprised. Baylor isn’t a basketball blue blood and it shouldn’t be referred to as one. An ESPN announcer is the only person in history to refer to Baylor as a blue blood. The announcer did it at the beginning of the Baylor vs Villanova game broadcast earlier this year when he talked about this “matchup between two basketball blue bloods”. But it was more likely a slip of the tongue than an actual, thought out statement.

But the question isn’t “is Baylor a blue blood?” The questions is “could they be?”

I’m going to say, for the record, that Baylor is never going to a top-tier blue blood. Excuse my bold take. I’m not saying it’s IMPOSSIBLE. Anything’s possible. One of the prerequisites of a blue blood is great success under multiple coaches, but that’s not a hard rule. Look at Duke. Duke wasn’t much before Coach K came and won five national championships. Coach K single-handedly turned Duke into a blue blood.

And I’ve talked before about how Baylor Basketball could be the next Duke. They’re both small, private schools with a relatively small alumni base. They both have vast financial resources, and they both have incredible, committed coaches. Once Baylor builds its new fieldhouse it will have just as good, if not better facilities and a similar home court advantage. However, one big difference: Baylor is a football school. Basketball will always take a back seat to football.

But that’s not an automatic exclusion from the list. Look at Michigan and Michigan State. Both teams with successful football programs which draw more support than the basketball programs. Football being the main sport isn’t the problem, it’s how much does the basketball turnout and support suffer because of football success.

Baylor could feasibly reach the second-tier blue blood status in my lifetime. We have some things going for us.

Kansas

Duke’s journey to blue blood was helped out immensely by their rivalry with already established blue blood North Carolina. Baylor is lucky. We have a blue blood in the conference, and we play them twice a year, every year. If Baylor were to have sustained success against Kansas that could spawn a rivalry between the two schools. You could consider Kansas to be one of Baylor’s rivals, but that feeling does not go two ways. You need a blue blood to consider you a rival. That gives you not only a boost in national perception, but also in recruiting and fan engagement. If Baylor can establish a rivalry with Kansas that would be huge for the program. However, the only way I see that happening is if Baylor continues to beat them with such regularity that we get under their skin. Now, this would all go much faster if a scuffle broke out in a Kansas Baylor basketball game. I’m not encouraging this, of course, but… it would help. (I’m looking at you, Mark Vital). But I’m not endorsing it.

Even if no real “rivalry” is established with Kansas, if we can be consistently competitive with them that would be a huge boost.

Coaching

I’ve already discussed this, but obviously the key to all this is Scott Drew. He’s a phenomenal coach and an incredible player developer. His recruiting has been on the upswing, highlighted by the 2020 class with multiple 4-star players. He could very feasibly win a national championship, if not multiple in his time at Baylor. This could be the year. Scott Drew has been compared to Villanova’s Jay Wright many times. They are similar in many ways, and the longer Drew coaches the better he does.

But the one thing that’s key here: Scott Drew isn’t leaving. We got him. He’s ours. And that’s huge. To become a powerhouse program, you need coaches that are committed. You need coaches that see it as a destination, not a stepping-stone. Temple football will never be a powerhouse program. Why? Because whenever a coach does well there, he uses his success to get a better job. Scott Drew isn’t looking to use his Baylor success to get any other job. Scott Drew could win 10 titles at Baylor and he’d still be ours.

Recruiting

Texas high school basketball is good. Baylor has a ton of great recruits in its own backyard. But Texas schools consistently lose recruits to out of state schools, like Kansas, Kentucky, and Ohio State. And for those recruits that stay in state, Baylor has to battle Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.

If Baylor could establish itself as the premiere college basketball program in the state (which is another level from the standard of best program in the state—a title Baylor owns this decade) of Texas, it could own the state. Sure, Texas has a big brand, but they don’t really have a huge basketballbrand. They’re consistently mediocre. Even when they have incredible players, they still turn out to be irrelevant. A little big-time success could go a long way in Baylor recruiting. If Baylor had the recruiting power of a blue blood, it would own this part of the country.

Resources

This is self-explanatory. Just the mere fact that Baylor/donors are willing to drop $100 million for a new basketball stadium should tell you that Baylor has resources upon resources. Scott Drew could demand his salary be doubled tomorrow, and I don’t really think anyone rational would fuss about it.

What’s Missing?

So, what’s missing? Why isn’t Baylor a blue blood?

Big Time Success

Baylor needs to win it all. It’s as simple as that. Baylor hasn’t made a Final Four since 1950. The Bears were close twice this decade. In 2010, Baylor was a bad block-charge call away from beating Duke. In 2012, Baylor ended up with a catastrophic draw against Kentucky —possibly the best team of the decade. Making Final Fours is the prerequisite to that leap. The Elite Eight is cool and so is being #1 in the nation for a week, but the Final Four is the big step.

Baylor severely needs a Final Four, if not a title. And I would like to reinforce how very possible this is for Baylor. The Final Four is not some unattainable goal. All Baylor needs to do to get to the Final Four is have two great weekends. That’s very doable. And it’s very doable this year.

Fan Support

This is the biggest issue. You could win the National Championship 10 years in a row, but if a team had bad fans, nobody would want to come play. Fans are crucial to the game of basketball. The amount of excitement a basketball program gets plays a huge part in how successful they are.

Baylor doesn’t have huge support for basketball. The attendance averages have been steadily declining over the past five years, and the average Baylor fan is extremely more interested in football than they are basketball. That’s not good. But Scott Drew is an extremely generous coach. On a night when maybe 5,000 people show up and about 1/6th of the student section is full, Drew will tweet out “what a great crowd” or mention it in his press conference; we really don’t deserve him.

But the Baylor fanbase needs to step it up. You want to do your part in making this program successful? Go to games. And if you can’t go to the games, watch them, tweet about them, talk about them. Just pay attention to Baylor basketball. I promise it’s worth paying attention to.

People say, “there’s no basketball culture in Texas”. That’s true, but I truly believe it’s possible to create basketball culture. Look at the way Texas Tech fans went crazy when they went to the Final Four. They were helped by having a terrible football team, which makes the challenge greater for Baylor. But the Final Four took their support to the next level. I think the problem isn’t that there is no fan interest, the problem is that Baylor needs to have great teams every season. It’s a Catch-22: Baylor doesn’t have the support they deserve because they haven’t made a Final Four, and it’s hard to break through to a Final Four when Baylor’s fan support puts them in a place where they can’t go 9-0 at home in the Big 12 like Kansas does so often. You and I, as intelligent college basketball fans, read that and say “We do have a consistently good program. We just had a top 20 matchup last week.” And you’d be right. But the average, “basketball isn’t my favorite sport” fan doesn’t see it that way. The average fan doesn’t think a top 20 matchup is worth making the trip for. They think in terms of powerhouses. If Kentucky came to town, even if they were unranked, that game would be packed. The Kansas game is that way every season. If Baylor could become a powerhouse, I truly think the fans would show up.

So, could Baylor become a basketball blue blood? Yes. But it will take better support and breaking through to the final weekend. Baylor’s gotten close to making the final weekend twice, and with the way they’re playing, this might be the year that starts that status leap.

Scott Drew has overcome far bigger obstacles than making a Final Four at Baylor. Once he does that—and it’s going to happen soon—Baylor will be ready to kick it into that next gear.