Jerry Tarkanian and Sport as Boosterism

It’s not a good time to be a former college basketball coach in your 80s. Dean Smith died on Sunday. Jerry Tarkanian died yesterday. Here are some thoughts I shared at Sport in American History on Tarkanian’s career fighting the NCAA and the role he played in building up UNLV.

Sport in American History

Ed Reinke/Associated Press Ed Reinke/Associated Press

Jerry Tarkanian put the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on the map. The Runnin’ Rebels former coach, who died yesterday at age 84, was the architect of a basketball powerhouse that established UNLV as a national brand. Tarkanian and UNLV, followed the example of other major universities and used sports as an important method of public relations to transform their institution.

Indeed, college sports teams have long been used for publicity by major universities. Throughout its history, college football has proved to be an effective public relations tool. One of the first actions of University of Chicago President William Rainey Harper was to hire Amos Alonzo Stagg as the school’s football coach. Harper hoped to build a championship team that would attract publicity for the new college. Other major universities followed suit.

My dissertation identifies a critical moment when the University of Oklahoma decided to use football and…

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