You knew this was coming.
Whether this is long overdue, premature, or right on cue, I think it’s about time we all had a discussion about the student section…or lack thereof. If you haven’t already you should look at Craig Belhumeur’s post on Friar Basketball on the same subject. My goal here is not to tread on the work Craig has done as he’s one of the most insightful fans I know (fun fact: he and I were both founding members of Friar Faithful and worked together for a number of years on getting student attendance up). I simply want to throw what I know into the ring for your consideration. In order to do that I want to break this down into a couple different sections: What I’ve experienced, where some of the problems lie and what I believe should be changed.
First let’s talk about what I’ve experienced…
For those of you who don’t know I was not originally a Providence College student. My first year of college was spent an hour and fifteen minutes north of Providence at Merrimack College, a < 2,000 undergrad institution with DII athletics sans for college hockey. Most of the kids at Merrimack treated the college like it was their second or third choice, wearing Boston College hoodies over a Stonehill t-shirts and Providence College sweatpants. Needless to say we didn’t dress well and school spirit was scarce. Basketball was played in a gym that rivaled my high school’s in size, and other than when Merrimack played Bentley (who was #1 for a few seasons in a row prior) getting more than 70 students to a game was considered a success. The real money maker was with hockey.
During my time at MC I was a class representative in student government, supported and attended several club meetings, pledged and was a brother in Tau Kappa Epsilon and was the mascot of Merrimack College: The Merrimack Warrior. Why is this important? For a small school that’s a few huge demands on top of the usual coursework, and everybody else had equally hefty schedules. And everyone made it to the hockey games to support our school.
Mind you it’s not like we were a great program – that season we won six games, which doubled the prior season’s total wins. It had been that way for awhile and nobody knew if there’d be a light at the end of the tunnel. That didn’t matter. They still showed up. It was the thing to do. If you weren’t at the hockey games you were a square. You’d leave your classes at the latest on 4 on a Friday, meet up with your friends, start drinking, walk over and scream your ass off. They would lose more often than not, everyone would leave, and they’d funnel that into the night. The big thing here was going to the games was a part of the Merrimack experience, not an interruption from it.
Remember all this stuff because I’m going to reference back to it.
Fast forward to Providence College. I was new on campus and so was head coach Keno Davis. After a decade of Welsh students showed up to support the AP COTY and their seniors. During that time Friar Faithful formed to help make more of an impact, but the students were already interested in the team. That of course was helped with some key wins over teams like Syracuse and Pitt, and the hype transferred to the next year. At least at the beginning. About halfway through the season we had a big win over UConn and then…well…nothing. We went on a losing streak so bad that there’s no poop joke worth making about it. Students lost interest. Then students got resentful because of some dumbasses who thought they were above everyone else and could get away with fighting, underage drinking and bringing in hookers. Truth be told though these were the crashing waves of something that was festering below the surface for awhile – some elitist attitudes carried by some players rubbing students the wrong way. Nobody condoned these actions, but the people who were responsible for watching these players and keeping them in check weren’t doing their job either. My senior year – Keno’s last year – was more of the same, only now not only were we not winning but students also were pissed off because of recent events.
It’s important to note that during this time students were giving a lot of other reasons for their lack of attendance as well. In addition to being incredibly pissed with the team they also said that the workload was too demanding, there was too much else going on, or they simply didn’t want to see the team lose. Call those whatever you will – reasons, excuses, whatever – but it was the feedback that was given. We worked our asses off during this time to give students other reasons to go. The hard thing about this is that there was an image we were combating that didn’t cater to what was or wasn’t the situation. Perception is reality, and the perception was that this team loses and they act like a bunch of punks when they aren’t on the court. Harsh? Maybe.
The good news was we had support from the athletic department to change this. Athletics is great and they were willing to try a lot of different things to change this perception. I can’t say for certain if we tried everything, but there was a lot of stress-filled 1 AM phone calls from me to other members of Friar Faithful trying to make sure we really were trying everything. I was pretty fortunate to be working with a great group of Friar Faithful board members who really put their passion into their work and tried their best to help get the students back. Oftentimes it felt like an impossible uphill battle, but you couldn’t ask for harder workers.
The season ended, Keno was fired, and Ed Cooley was hired. This was a godsend because Cooley was committed to changing the culture of PC hoops. Great! I remember thinking, this will definitely help students want to go to games! My only regret was I had to graduate that year and would never be a student while Cooley was coach.
Fast forward to this past Saturday. Cooley’s team won their fifth league game in a row over an NCAA team, and the buzz is finally starting to reach national levels. Talk of Providence’s first NCAA appearance in a decade are becoming more realistic, and despite early-season adversity the team is overcoming obstacles and winning games.
Not that the students would know because they weren’t there to see it.
Let’s talk about this problem…
What the hell? The team is winning, the players (from what I’ve heard) have way better behavior and no longer act like they’re above anybody else, and the games are at way more convenient times on weeknights and weekends so work shouldn’t be that interrupted. What happened?
One take on it is this: The students are promised a certain level of quality now that Cooley is around. The first season Cooley had the same record as Keno’s last two seasons but things were looking up. Still though, win/loss columns appear to be everything so let’s give that season a bye because fuck it, we got enough on last season and this season to talk about anyway. Last season the students were promised two highly touted guards by the names of Kris Dunn and Ricky Ledo. They got Dunn for half the season and Ledo for none of it, adding some disappointment to the season early on and changing expectations from “we’re definitely an NCAA team” to “we’ll be lucky to get post season.” The team did get post season and performed well above what anybody (students or fans otherwise – I’m calling out some of you pessimistic message board posters here) could’ve expected given circumstances. And to top it off there was more talent incoming for next season!
This season rolls around. That talent is now suspended – first indefinitely, then for the season – and Kris Dunn is again out, this time for the season, due to injury. All that preseason buzz about NCAA shoe-in’s and whatnot turned into “oh god this will be a long season” both from students and fans alike. And hey, that workload hasn’t change a bit! Moreso, now the students have a reason to be a bit annoyed. Yeah, nobody is getting beat down or bringing prostitutes around, but what the hell? We were told there would be top recruits again and they’re not playing again. The logic here? “Why bother showing up if we’re not getting what was advertised to us?” See? The students have reasons not to show up!
No. Sorry students. There is no more petty excuses. But I don’t think the solutions being offered for the excuses are necessarily great either. Let’s break this down, one argument and solution at a time:
- The team doesn’t ever win! Why would I go all the way downtown just to see Providence lose? Well, couple things right off the bat: they’re not losing, they’re winning (and winning pretty handedly at that), and who cares how they do? Everyone wants to see their team win, but stop acting like that win is owed to you. Remember when I mentioned Merrimack losing all but six games in their prominent sport? Yeah, students still showed up to support their team and socialize. Nobody expected a win, but they wanted to be there whenever this team did win because the win was made more rewarding from every loss they showed up to before. Just like the team, the students earned the right to see wins, it wasn’t given to them.
- I have way too much to do! I don’t have time to go to a basketball game! Oh shut up. Just shut up. You have a lot to do? Really? Again, refer to what I said about Merrimack. When I pledged TKE we had to go to three hour mandatory study hours four nights a week, followed by pledge events, and on the weekends we had to help set up, act as security and then as the clean up crew to parties. This was in addition to any weekend pledge events we had, which usually consumed half a day Saturday and half a day Sunday if we were lucky. And that was one thing we had in addition to classes and other extracurriculars. “But that’s a fraternity! It’s different!” It isn’t. It’s the exact same thing as anything else any of you have going on. I saw it happen when I got to Providence too. And I’m just talking about the fun stuff that we chose to do, that doesn’t even include the demand on classes at Merrimack or Providence. But somehow we found a balance. I’m going to refer back to this point so keep it in your head.
- I can’t go because of A/B/C thing going on! Hold that thought cause we’re coming back to this one too.
- We were told we’d get to see Brandon Austin play! I want to see Brandon Austin play! Tough. We were all expecting that, we were all disappointed when Austin/Ledo/Bullock/Dunn/whoever else didn’t get to play because of [reasons]. Life ain’t perfect, you gotta take things for what the are. And hell, this is one of the good parts of life. This is the thing you do to have fun and get away from the fact that life ain’t perfect, not the place you go to whine about how you don’t get too see a player that you were hoping to see. I get the disappointment but what about the other players all wearing the same school name on their jerseys that happen to represent you and your school on the court night in and night out? Why aren’t you supporting them too? Cause ESPN didn’t have a number next to their name while they were in high school? Get over it man. Those kids out there are your classmates. They represent you. Give them your support if you can’t give it to the kids who aren’t there.
- How could I possibly support the team if [something] happened in the past! Easy – get over it. Yes, it hurt this community severely at the time and it’s still a scar in many ways on the school to this day. THAT SAID it’s time to move on and put it in the past. You’re not some social warrior by constantly bringing it up, you’re a moron. I was there when all these things happened, and yet somehow I – along with many, many, many of my peers – have put it in the past. Time you did the same.
- I’ll show up when the team gets to the NCAA tournament! Fucking bandwagon fan.
So there. Every reason you have has gone the way of disco, and now what? Just admit the fact that you’re apathetic maybe?
Let’s talk about a solution…
Fuck no. Have you been listening? This isn’t just a “hurr durr, PC students sux” post. I want this to be something worthwhile. There’s plenty of bullshit flak on the internet berating student apathy to death without actually understanding what or how to change it. It’s counterproductive and, honestly, makes the fans who just bash the students look petty. Yes it’s fair to be critical of the students. No it’s not helpful to do so without offering a solution. Yes I realize that this post makes me partly the type of asshole I just described. No I don’t care. Here’s why:
Two things need to be looked at with this problem: cultural perception and reasons for attending. Cultural perception is a very fluid concept when it comes to something like this, and it’s hard to definitively say at any given time what exactly this team is perceived like, especially when you’re not a student. I have limited insight to this, and I’m relying mostly on what I’m told and my experiences as a student to formulate this opinion, so I’m not going to get too hung up on what this team is and isn’t perceived as. I will say that it will take time, and in the case of “what came first – attendance or wins” that wins will always come first. This may mean that students who show up after Cooley bolsters this team (or any team) to the NCAA tournament are considered bandwagon fans, but let’s challenge this idea for a second.
If we’re giving the argument that the team represents the students, that makes the team one facet of the student’s identity as a member of the Providence College community. If there’s 32 games a season and a student is there for four years the student will have the chance to see 128 PC games as an undergrad. If PC is constantly losing those games then that means that part of that student’s identity becomes a loser perception, and the attitude of “I want to wait until they win” isn’t so much about the team as it is about themselves. If they have the choice between building an identity off a loss or something else that they perceive as a more positive use of their time, which way do you think they’ll go? I know what you’re thinking - Warrior you just said the team isn’t losing! - and that’s true, they aren’t, but what about the perception of the team? If the students feel like “it doesn’t matter if they beat Creighton because that’s a fluke, they’re going to lose to Butler” then that’s not a matter of winning and losing, it’s a matter of perception. That is what takes so long to change, and unfortunately isn’t something that happens overnight. So are they bandwagon fans waiting for the wins or protecting their identity? The answer is both, and that won’t change until some time passes and the consistency of success that I know for a fact Ed Cooley will deliver becomes hard evidence for a student, not a relative idea.
Remember when I first mentioned Merrimack? There was a fantastic reason for that, and here’s where it comes into place: the second thing that needs to change are the reasons a student has for attending a game. If you’ll recall I said that, at Merrimack, every club was talking about going to the hockey games that weekend and every person felt like they had to go otherwise they were going to miss out on something,despite the team not winning often. Merrimack’s atmosphere was focused on the social components, with the games being interwoven with the day/evening events rather than an interruption from them. If you didn’t have a party to go to, you went to a hockey game and found out what was going on. If you wanted to hang out with your friends from 7 to 10 on a Saturday, that’s where you went to. If you wanted to feel like you were a part of the Merrimack community? Guess where you’d go?
The challenge that athletics and Friar Faithful both face is that Providence basketball is no longer seen as an interwoven part of the day’s events, it’s felt like an interruption from them. The social aspect of going to the game has been replaced. By what you ask? Bars. House parties. Homework. Studying. Honestly, does it matter? Really anything that the student has to put on pause while they go watch this team, and there lies the problem. All those “debunked excuses” above wouldn’t make a difference in the world because that’s only one part of a much larger process, the bulk of the process resting on convincing a student that going to games should be a part of their college experience rather than an interruption from it.
That’s a big challenge, but it’s one that’s actually much more managable and one that already has the pieces in place for success. We’ve seen it at points this year already. Look at the BC game this year: there was a beer garden, so students showed up. They were they for the beer garden and the game yes, but what did that mean for the students? It meant a college experience they could reflect back on positively, regardless of wins or losses. The benefits of going weren’t just “you’ll get to go to a game and see the team,” it was “you’ll get to go to a game with your friends and see the team while you get to socialize with your classmates.” It makes sense too. How bad of a cars salesperson would someone be if they said “the benefit of owning this car is that it moves.” Yeah, no shit, that’s what a car is supposed to do. You’re supposed to see a basketball game when you go to a basketball game. That logic is so basic it’s borderline stupid. What’s the benefit of going though?
The objective is to make these games feel like a social atmosphere. It’s a place where you can create memories, meet new people and have something from it while you’re spending your college time there. As I’m typing this and looking back at my three years at PC I don’t remember a ton of outcomes to games. I do remember meeting literally my best friends at these games. The friends that I still talk to almost every day, write about and think of first whenever something worth sharing in my life has come from going to these games. And that’s what these experiences need to get back to. But it won’t come just by sitting around waiting. Friar Faithful and athletics are moving towards it, but the students need to take ownership of it too. And they’ve proven with the BC game that they will, it’s just a matter of making sure that the opportunities are there and the students are aware of it. Then we will have a student section that fans are proud of, the school is proud of, and most importantly that the students are proud of.
So there it is, in a plain 3,500 word thesis, what needs to happen. We’ve gone through what I’ve seen work and not work, what the excuses are, and what needs to go right now. Students of Providence College: I’m challenging you directly. Friar Faithful involvement or no involvement, make these games a part of your experiences by having them be experiences you want to look back on fondly. Work with athletics. Work with Cooley. They’re there to help you, and I’d bet anything they absolutely will. Fans and alumni you be ready to help out if called on too. We’re a family, and we’ll build this thing together if need be.
Make it happen students. Make me proud of being in the Providence College student section. Make us all proud. You can, I know you can. Like the old saying goes: just do it.