Disclaimer: I wrote this article as an immediate response to news of Clemson’s recent hire. After publishing the article I since learned that there are allegations regarding this coach. I removed the article from the TMC homepage, but will keep the article up because the link was already sent to Email subscribers and shared on social media platforms.
With the announcement of Amy Smith as the head coach of Clemson’s upstart women’s gymnastics program, I want to make an article highlighting all the reasons her position is quite advantageous. Clemson is no ordinary school, and the establishment of a new NCAA program at this location presents a unique opportunity where an upstart program has an easy path to becoming a winning program
Clemson University is one of the wealthiest athletic programs in the NCAA. Its athletic budget prior to the Covid-19 Pandemic was $132 Million. This is an institution that can offer prospective recruits the most luxurious accommodations including dorms, dining halls, training halls and recreational centers that are exclusive to its student-athletes. Clemson can not only offer accommodations that are far superior to the average college student, but accommodations that greatly exceed all but a small number of gymnastics programs.
Gymnasts who choose the Clemson Tigers not only get the benefit of a wealthy program, but one with a massive fanbase. Despite being two years out from its season debut, the Twitter account Clemson created for its gymnastics team gained a larger following than future ACC rival North Carolina State within the first week of the program being officially announced. Since then, the dormant Twitter has managed to bring itself to within 1,000 followers of Pitt, the second largest of its three future ACC rivals.
There is a possibility that by the time Clemson makes its competition debut it will already have the largest social media following within its own conference. Supported by a fanbase that is massive in numbers, and has something else. Even by the standards of college sports, Clemson fans are an exceptionally passionate bunch. I’m talking from personal experience here, but of all the opposing fanbases I’ve seen on the inside of a college football stadium, Clemson fans were amongst the fieriest supporters I have ever seen.
Most notably, on road games Clemson fans stamp “Tiger Paws” on $2 dollar bills and spend that money within the community their team is visiting. It is Clemson’s way of respectfully announcing their presence, and making sure a piece of the Clemson spirit remains behind when the fanbase returns home. With only minimal effort, Clemson meets can easily achieve one of the great stadium atmospheres of college gymnastics. And I’m sure Clemson fans will go well beyond minimal effort.
Clemson is an iconic brand propped up by an equally significant conference brand. The ACC is the last of the major conferences that has not yet adopted women’s gymnastics. If Clemson is one of the most resourceful athletic programs within the NCAA, the ACC is one of its most resourceful conferences. The relatively new ACC network which was established in 2019 and spent its early history stymied by a global pandemic is already available in 90 million American households and is carried by every major provider. It is one of the few specialized sports channels that carries such weight within the television and streaming world.
All of that is fully behind the inaugural season of ACC gymnastics allowing all four ACC programs to obtain a surge in promotional coverage they have never experienced before. As the most iconic ACC football brand that also sponsors women’s gymnastics, Clemson will benefit from this more than anyone.
Which brings us to yet another point, the ACC itself. Because North Carolina, North Carolina State, and Pitt have not had the benefit of ACC branding in prior years, their social media accounts, fanbase size, and even competitive success lags behind their counterparts in the nearby SEC and the not so nearby Pac-12. Clemson is in the unique position where it doesn’t face the same disadvantage most upstart programs face of having to compete against older and more established programs.
Clemson has the resources of a $132 million dollar budget to easily overcome any gap, while competing in a conference where there isn’t a significant gap to overcome. Within the ACC there isn’t a program acting as a roadblock like UCLA and Utah in the Pac-12 where both have won numerous national titles. Nor is their overwhelming depth like the SEC where Oklahoma, Florida, LSU, and Auburn are a formidable lineup on their own. Not to mention rising programs like Missouri and Arkansas or historical title contenders like Alabama and Georgia.
This is not to belittle the current ACC programs which will together will Clemson form the foundation of a groundbreaking new gymnastics conference, only that they will mutually benefit from it, but Clemson has the resources to benefit the most. And unlike the SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten or Big 12, there is a viable path for Clemson to win a conference title in its first couple of seasons.
North Carolina is the best positioned program to rival Clemson, and it just so happens that Amy Smith spent six years at North Carolina as an assistant coach from 2012-2017. Smith knows the local territory, has familiarity with the regional clubs that will be invaluable recruiting tools, she knows how her closest rivals operate and even more so, has seen them operate firsthand.
Clemson is a $132 million dollar athletic program that has doubled in size from where it was a decade ago. The kingmakers running Clemson athletics weren’t given the keys to such a valuable program unless they know what they are doing. And if you are successfully generating as much staggering growth as Clemson athletics has within the past decade, then you most definitely know what you are doing. Clemson clearly knew what it is doing with the Amy Smith hire. Clemson provides an easy environment for a coach to excel in, but with the burden of having to so many resources at your disposal, one must juggle to manage them all correctly.
The person selected to juggle all of it must be chosen carefully.
Amy Smith has already spent time coaching at a Pac-12 school, a Big 12 school, an SEC school, and an ACC school. She has spent significant time inside the training hall of UCLA, one of the most complex programs to manage and has the personal experience to know what it is like to be on the coaching staff of a high-resource program. There is also the previously mentioned North Carolina which gives her an advantage in understanding the immediate region and Clemson’s closest rival. Lastly, there was her time at Utah State were Smith gained the experience of managing a program on her own.
Clemson didn’t pick Amy’s name out of a hat. They selected her because they saw a coaching resume that checks every single box you want checked off when handing the keys of a program like Clemson to its first coach. The predicament Smith finds herself in is equally as unprecedented as it is absurd. It is unfair to the rest of college gymnastics that one program has every conceivable advantage imaginable. There may be unforeseen obstacles, but Smith has been dealt a very good hand of cards. If she plays it correctly, Clemson could easily become a strong contender.
The next step is for Amy Smith to deploy the last “ace up your sleeve” advantage she has. That being, an upstart program can easily sway over prospective recruits because incoming freshman don’t have to share playing time with existing upperclassmen. This massive recruiting advantage is typically offset by all the disadvantages of being an upstart program. But when you have a viable path to a conference title, a television channel with 90 million households, and a $132 million dollar program supporting you, those disadvantages don’t really exist.
If there is an ace to be found, it is already in Clemson’s possession. Amy has all the aces.