"Bragging rights" might be the term that best describes the way championships build civic pride. Few things unite a community the way a winning local team does.
In the best of circumstances, college teams forge ties with their cities the way no other institutions can. In worst-case scenarios, a university athletics program can bring embarrassment and shame.
In Weber State University's 125 years of existence, teams and athletes have drawn plenty of positive attention to the school: In recent years, NBA star Damian Lillard shines the brightest.
"From an awareness standpoint, you can't put a dollar figure on what he's doing for this university," Weber State athletics director Jerry Bovee said. "I watched a game the other night and he's 6 for 6 in the game and the guys are talking about little old Damian Lillard out of Weber State. Every time he does something positive, which is a lot right now, we're getting play. There's a connection there."
At a campus celebration when Lillard won the NBA rookie of the year honor after leaving WSU, basketball coach Randy Rahe said he no longer has to tell recruits who Weber State is.
WSU Vice President Norm Tarbox put it this way: "I don't hear people refer to us as 'Webber State" anymore," he said. "A lot of that has to do with Damian and the notoriety he's brought to the university. Think about it: How many Big Sky players have achieved the level of play Damian has? There isn't anybody."
In his second season as a pro, Lillard has led the Portland Trail Blazers to one of the best records in the NBA. He garnered more national attention Sunday night when injured Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant suggested people vote for "the younger players, the Damian Lillards of the world" instead of himself for the NBA All-Star Game.
Before Lillard became the torchbearer for Weber State, distance runner Lindsey Anderson competed in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Basketball coaches Dick Motta and Phil Johnson went on to success in the NBA. WSU hoops teams pulled off rare NCAA Tournament upsets in 1995 and 1999. Pro basketball pioneer Wataru "Wat" Misaka began his career in Ogden. Weber State's men's basketball won the national junior college championship in 1959. Quarterback Jamie Martin won the Walter Payton Award in 1991 and had a long NFL career. In 2012, ESPN rated Weber State's men's basketball program the 39th best of the last 50 years; in 2005, Street & Smith's ranked it 51st all-time.
Many others have achieved significant milestones in sports that brought positive publicity to the school.
On the flip side, through the years a variety of Weber State athletes have appeared in news pages for less savory accomplishments, among them drug offenses, felony and misdemeanor criminal charges and academic cheating.
Bovee is well aware of the double-edged nature of the spotlight shining on college sports.
"It runs both ways. It can be a negative role, it can be a positive role," Bovee said. "I look at some institutions where their athletics programs had some negative publicity, bad press, whatever you want to call it and it's been a negative light for the institution. Penn State comes to mind; they're going to dig out of that for a long time."
A strong athletics program does wonders for the institution as a whole, but if it's not run right and it's not done the right way, it can be a negative, Bovee says. "That's the pressure that I feel all the time as an athletics director, to make sure the things we do on a daily basis represent in that positive way."
When an athlete earns attention in court instead of on the court, communication from university leadership about the educational mission of the school is critical to ensuring that "student" is emphasized equally as much as "athlete."
"To think that you're not going to have some negative occurrence is very Pollyanna," Bovee said. "We're dealing with upwards of 300 kids between the ages of 18-23 -- they're going to make mistakes.
"When you have a breakdown and the competitiveness, the dollars and the importance of the program get out from under you, if you allow that to happen, then you've created a house of cards that ultimately easily can come down," Bovee said.
It's become a cliche among athletics directors to call college sports programs "the front porch of the university," but there is some truth in the analogy: Athletics can be the most visible aspect of a university, and coaches are often among the state's highest-paid employees.
Former football coach John L. Smith gained more national notoriety for leaving the school without coaching a game than he might have had he stayed for several seasons, though most of the coverage was sympathetic to WSU's plight.
Sporting events are exciting, spontaneous and unpredictable, so athletics provides an easy connection between the university and the surrounding community, Bovee said, but a large percentage of Weber State students are commuters, making it a challenge for the school to build ties with students who spend a few hours a day on campus and then leave.
"For years, we've got kids walking on our campus that aren't even wearing our colors. They're wearing a BYU hat or a Utah State shirt or Utah shorts, they're not even wearing our gear to class. Our challenge is to drive some loyalty and to be those institutions to our own people," Bovee said. A recent refresh of the WSU athletics logo and brand tried to counter that problem. "For now, we're taking all comers. I tell people all the time, BYU fans, there's room for us in your life; Utah fans, there's room for us. ... I want to compete for the love of the community."
In October 2013, Weber State University and Ogden City formalized a "College Town Charter" to establish a closer connection between the school and its hometown.
The initiative grew out of events hosted to honor Lillard when he was drafted in the NBA and later, when he won the rookie of the year award.
Athletics may have been the driving force behind the charter, signed by Weber State University President Charles Wight and Ogden City Mayor Mike Caldwell, but there's more to it, Bovee says.
"That's an easy connection, but I think if you were to sit down and talk with President Wight and talk to him about the importance of the cooperative agreement with leaders in our community ... he would probably think there's a lot more that's much more important to the institution as a whole to have a strong relationship," he said. "But athletics is kind of the grease to get that machine going."