The Cavalier Daily
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Letting go of game-time pretention

ONE MIGHT have expected a packed stadium. After all, just last week an e-mail was sent to all students, warning that the available student seats might fill up quickly. Scott Stadium, sporting its new lights and seats, was jammed with students. The student section in particular was overflowing, making movement difficult. Unfortunately, such was not the case this past Saturday. As the Cavaliers battled Duke, one might have wondered where all the fans had gone.

The glaring contrast between the two games - only one week apart - highlights the lack of constant support for our athletic teams. The game against Duke, an ACC rival, seems like one that should draw a fair crowd. But at kickoff time, the student section - and the stadium as a whole - was full of empty seats, and though students dawdled in as the game continued, the mass of the previous Saturday's game never was approached.

The whole situation is fairly circular. Fans don't show up because we don't have a great team, and the team plays worse as a result - note that the Duke game was lost in double-overtime. The losses hurt recruiting and the team doesn't get the top recruits - undoubtedly, no recruit would be much impressed with a loss to Duke, whether in overtime or not.

Here at the University, the students worry more about whether their ties are straight and their khakis are pressed than about rooting for their team. Perhaps dressing up for a game sends the wrong message altogether. Going to a football game shouldn't be about looking good. It's about screaming your heart out, heckling the refs and yelling obscenities at the opposing team and fans.

It wouldn't be a stretch to say that, as traditions go, dressing up for games is one that likely inhibits fan participation. Naturally, wearing one's Sunday best won't produce a fan who wants to go all out. Drinks may spill, face paint may run and the nice, crisp - and expensive - shirt or dress might be ruined. Who wouldn't act reserved? Maybe all the dresses and ties prevent people from letting loose.

The truth is that at big-time sports schools, that kind of lackluster approach to cheering doesn't happen. At Notre Dame, it doesn't matter whether or not the team turned in a lousy 6-4 record during the previous year. The stadium still will be full before kickoff and the fans still will cheer all game. There is an official shirt every year, making the student section a sea of uniformly colored students. Similarly, games at Boston College are wild. Fans go crazy over a team that is mediocre at best.

No one will ever mistake the U-Hall crowd for Cameron Crazies. There's no comparison. The face-painted, nutty Duke crowd has a cheer for any situation, making up new ones when necessary and always rattling opponents with the tremendous noise.

Admittedly, having a great team goes a long way toward pulling fans into the stadiums, but all teams have down years, and those with a strong fan base seem to weather the tough times more easily. Fans go and encourage the teams anyway.

Certainly the game against Virginia Tech was a powerful reminder of our lack of support. In the student section, Tech fans were everywhere. All of them were dressed up and none of them were scared to cheer for their team - in what should have been hostile territory. When they began jingling their keys on kickoffs and "key" plays, it was apparent that they were quite numerous.

The sad thing is that everyone seems to be very content with the situation. Students are happy to go to the game - very late - and to drink their rum, to see who else is there, and to try to look pretty in general. In fact, it seems that the football games are more about socializing than football and that the most excitement moment comes when they get to shout 'Not Gay' during our "fight song."

Last year the problem wasn't so readily apparent. Our football team was excellent and gave us plenty of reasons to cheer. But now, as our team flounders, attempting to hit some sort of stride, it needs our support. Whether playing a top 10 team or an unranked nobody, it is important to capitalize on home field advantage.

What kind of impression do our fans leave on recruits? Undoubtedly, there were recruits at Saturday's game. They saw us lose to Duke, so what should make them come back? Our stadium, which was by no means full and certainly not packed? Our fans, who didn't care enough to show up for the game? What is going to keep them from going to the next school they visit - their stadium might not be as new or as large, but they probably yell a lot louder.

Fans won't fill Scott Stadium consistently without a good team, but the University never will have a top 25 team without good recruiting. One key is making the University an exciting place for sports. The bottom line is that a team can't be a perennial powerhouse without a perennially supportive crowd. Perhaps our ties are a bit too tight, but whatever the problem, University fans need to support their teams through thick and thin. Apathetic, fair-weather fans preclude us from achieving the dreams of top 10 teams and an athletic juggernaut.

(Nick Lawler's column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily.)