As I am sure all readers here now know, Ron Wellman reaffirmed Jeff Bzdelik as the head basketball coach at Wake Forest University last week in several different interviews.
Despite Wellman's assertion that the "majority of fans support [the decision to keep Jeff Bzdelik]," several sample polls like ours here at Blogger So Dear (88%), this one at the Winston-Salem Journal (89%), and this one on OGBoards (a Wake Forest message board) (95%), overwhelmingly refute that notion.
People in touch with the pulse of the Wake Forest fan base understand that the majority of them are pretty upset with the decision to retain Coach Bzdelik for another year.
This, in itself, is one of the biggest problems fans have with Wellman and the rest of the people handling the media responsibilities: there is a disconnect between what Wellman perceives the fan base to feel and how the fan base actually feels.
Now that this decision has been made, it is up to the fan base to decide how they will handle this. As has been discussed here and other places nearly to death, there have been a few different responses already by upset fans.
An ad was taken out of the Old Gold and Black (Wake Forest student newspaper), a "BuzzOut" ad was taken out every day of the ACC Tournament in the Greensboro News and Record, and now a billboard has been fully funded that will likely target Wellman and his decision to keep Coach Bzdelik.
As much as Wellman would like to convince himself and perhaps the less passionate (and more gullible) fan that these are the so-called "lunatic fringe" Wake Forest fans, it is easy to see that this is not the case. Over 100 people contributed to the "BuzzOut" ad, raising $2500 in just over 24 hours, while over 50 contributed nearly $5000 in a week to the billboard that will go up in the near future.
While 150 people may seem like it is the lunatic fringe to most fan bases, Wake Forest is a very different place that graduates significantly fewer students every year than an N.C. State or UNC does. There is also another poll on OGBoards that indicates only 30% that are upset with the direction of the basketball program actually donated to either protest.
It is worth noting that people who post on a Wake Forest message board are naturally going to be more passionate about sports than the average Wake Forest fan. This is duly noted and understandable, but at at the same time, this type of unity extends far beyond the message boards, which can be seen with the comments being left on the Wake Forest Sports Facebook page.*
Middle-aged mothers, retired workers, college students and your average 40-year-old blue collar workers are expressing their displeasure with the basketball program. I'm pretty sure a majority of these alumni, townies and fans alike have never even visited OGBoards, and if they do, they do so rather infrequently.
There are several different ways a fan base can handle feeling neglected and marginalized by an athletic director and university that they support both financially and emotionally. The first two are the extremes of course: be happy with whatever direction the program is headed in and support it with blind faith in the best of times and the worst of times, or to the other direction, scream for the head of a player, coach and administrator every single time the team loses a game or does not meet or exceed expectations.
I think that we can all agree that of the two extremes listed so far, Wake Forest has very, very few of the latter and a higher percentage of the former than nearly any other competitor in the ACC, and even the country for that matter.
The Wake Forest fan base is not a hard one to please. Most fans understand the limitations and restrictions that the Demon Deacon athletic teams face year-in and year-out. That is what makes our successes even sweeter and our defeats sting a little less.
While some may view this as a "holier-than-thou" attitude, I truly believe Wake Forest athletics usually strives to do the best that they can given these limitations. I would be lying if I said that we actually accomplish on a regular basis what I would like, because frankly, the majority of our athletic teams have left me disappointed in my 23 years of being a Wake Forest fan.
Up until two or three years ago I honestly believed that Wellman was essentially above reproach for the job that he has done as the Wake Forest athletic director. He not only brought success to the teams periodically, but did so by expecting coaches and players to uphold a "culture" of winning the "right way."
Not only did he do that well, he also improved the athletic facilities to compete with some of the best in the nation, see: Deacon Tower, Wake Forest Baseball Park, renovations at the Joel, Pruitt Football Center/practice field, and the on-campus Golf Complex.
What I, and apparently a majority of fans, will not stand for, is to use our academic standards and limitations as excuses for failures on the basketball court. We don't need to constantly be reminded of how difficult it is in the classroom at Wake Forest, because the majority of us graduated from Wake Forest. Most probably did not do it as a student-athlete, who I have the utmost respect for because of their time management and stress-filled days, but we get the academic side of things.
Not only has Wellman began to do this to justify the basketball program and where it is right now, but he has seemingly created a moral code that is nearly impossible to adhere to unless if your name is Jeff Bzdelik. I won't get into how Coach Bzdelik has done by objective standards, because we all know he has failed at nearly all of those.
This seemingly subjective standard is another thing causing a chasm between the Wake Forest fan base and Wellman. A lot of Wake Forest fans feel as if he is almost to a fault de-emphasizing the winning aspect of sports in exchange for "building a rock-solid foundation ... for the future."
There is absolutely nothing wrong with recruiting high-character basketball players who are also highly talented basketball players. I am not in any way, shape or form saying that Wake should "compromise values" or "cut corners" to win. Dave Odom did this pretty well. I thought Skip Prosser also did this, although with the revisionist history of Wellman and Bzdelik, the environment that the late Prosser brought to Wake Forest was one of thugs, criminals and basic hooliganism.**
My opinion on how Wake Forest fans have responded to the state of the basketball program is that these somewhat drastic measures that are being taken were self-inflicted by the athletic department and media relations department. The failure and inability to relate and effectively communicate with the average fan has led to louder cries by the fan base for their voice to be heard.
There are several examples that can be given to show why the fan base is unsettled and not happy with the situation that go far beyond the poor results on the basketball court. Unanswered letters to Wellman and President Hatch on the matter, lack of responses to withheld donations from Deacon Club members, and continued failed attempted communication with the fan base by Jeff Bzdelik and Wellman that do not address the concerns.
While some of the comments on the message boards and Facebook page have obviously been over-the-top and completely uncalled for, the majority of what Wake Forest fans are doing is out of love for their school and desire to see the Deacs succeed on the hardwood and the classroom. I will never condone personal attacks or wishing bodily harm on anybody, but merely stating facts and statistics is never something that should be looked down upon.
Believe it or not, the fans do not take joy in taking out these ads and billboards. The majority would rather be donating it to the Deacon Club or spending it on tickets for themselves and their families to attend Wake Forest sporting events.
Unfortunately, it has gotten to this point where fans feel that their money is better spent making their voices heard instead of supporting the basketball team in its current state.
Think about that. A lot of fans feel like it is more important to protest who the Wake Forest head coach is instead of donating money to the school they love so much. Doesn't that indicate there is a pretty serious problem given that the Wake Forest fan base is one of the easiest in the country to please?
I believe fans should always support a team no matter what is going on in the program, and I also think that most Wake Forest fans are doing exactly this by holding a longview of what is right for the program.
If Wellman and the administration are not going to listen to their fan base and constituents, then they will continue to push to be heard. The message is clear: find a basketball coach that is capable of winning for Wake Forest on and off of the basketball court. To expect anything less is to not be fully committed to the program that you invest in so much financially and emotionally.
*As a sidenote, the fact that the entire handling of the Wake Forest Facebook page is baffling to me and the exact opposite of how any reasonable social media expert would run that page. That's another article for another day though.
** This is also an article for another day, but how recent former players that played for Coach Dino Gaudio and Coach Prosser are lashing out at the fans for taking out ads against Wellman and Coach Bzdelik without realizing that the latter are actually blaming them for the situation that we are in now, is one of the more mind-boggling parts of the entire situation.