There is bad news out of Oklahoma this morning; as crowds surged onto the field following Oklahoma State’s victory over Oklahoma to tear down the goalposts, 13 people were reported injured, two critically.This is one of many unhappy stories related to college sports that we hear each year. Serious football injuries, poor behavior by varsity athletes, worse behavior by coaches, recruiting violations, exploitation of student athletes, special privileges for student athletes, overspending on athletic programs, fat contracts for celebrity coaches as adjunct math professors starve: depressing news stories about varsity sports are one of American journalism’s most vigorous genres.There is much to deplore in the world of college athletics, including the distortions that Title IX has brought to the system. Via Meadia deplores the deplorable as much as anyone else, and only wishes readers could see how elegantly we wring our hands as each sad new story appears on our screens. Wring, wring, wring. Alas, alas, alas. Deplore, deplore, deplore. Repeat until Moral Seriousness is fully established.With all that behind us, though, we go on to note something that is rarely discussed but needs to be remembered: college athletics, and especially the high profile football and basketball programs, have done more to make American universities the envy of the world than all the math clubs and science fairs held since the beginning of time.Varsity athletics, and especially all male varsity athletics in football and basketball, are the heart and soul of the alumni fundraising that gives American universities their uniquely deep financial resources. It is rivalries like the one that sent all those Oklahoma State fans onto the playing field that keep state legislators voting appropriations for their favorite schools. Without varsity athletics and the intense bond school rivalries create among students, Harvard and Yale would not be nearly as rich as they are. Public universities like the University of North Carolina and the University of Kentucky would not have anything like the level of private contributions or state funding they now receive.It may be a sad commentary on human nature, but it is a fact that while America’s “culture of philanthropy” and its respect for learning contribute to university fund raising, the real engine that pulls the train of alumni loyalty has less to do with those factors than the much simpler and more elemental desire to “beat State”, that is, the desire of alumni to see their home university do better than its rivals.I’ve spoken with foreign university presidents who have attended well meaning seminars on how to emulate the success of American university fundraising. I’ve spoken to faculty at Oxford and Cambridge about the efforts of these universities to supplement increasingly limited state funds. And I’ve heard many good ideas about contacting alumni, informing them about current activities, reaching out to them for various initiatives and many other worthy and useful ideas.But if you want to understand why so many generations of Americans have sent so much dough back to the campuses where they wasted some of the happiest years of their lives, watch the intensity of the tens of thousands of fans who attend these events. Look at the shirtless boys with faces and torsos painted in the school colors; look at the cheerleaders on the fields, the ‘waves’ surging through the stands.American universities, those temples of reason (at their best), are tribes. The kids bond to each other and to their schools in the heat of the intense emotions that these contests generate. Those shirtless kids covered in paint, shivering in the November weather as the cheer their team on, will be prosperous, middle aged alumni one day — and when they are, they will still be stirred by the memory of the emotions and the loyalty that brought them out to the field.If you want your alumni to give, you first have to make them fall in love with your school. This is not about having better chemistry programs or more faculty with higher name recognition than the school up the road. It is not about scoring higher on world indices of university quality. It is about competition, drama, intensity, about hope and fear, collective celebrations or collective disasters, seared into young and impressionable hearts where they will never be forgotten — and where they will be annually renewed as each sport in its season produces new highs and lows, new hopes and fears. Alumni watching their schools’ games on TV, or celebrating or mourning their schools’ results each week with friends, family and colleagues are renewing their ties with their alma maters affirming that being an “Aggie” or a “Tar Heel” is an identity, not a line on the resume.This is why most of them give. It is irrational and tribal love. It is intense emotion, not a vague sense of obligation or philanthropy. They want to beat State.If you want your students to become loyal, giving alumni, you must turn them into members of a tribe. You must make them fall in love with their school, and believe that they and all the other alums are united in a family. Your temple of reason cannot rise to the heavens unless it is grounded in irrational love.