The Palestra, the University of Pennsylvania’s “Cathedral of Basketball,” has been home to more games, more opponents and more March Madness than any other arena in the nation. The Quakers’ home court has drawn crowds to Penn’s sports complex for nearly 80 years now. But the main advantage the Quakers regularly draw from their arena — which is also the site of a string of eight straight losses for the Eli men’s basketball team — has nothing to do with its history, location or age.
The reason Penn’s basketball teams love the Palestra is that when they play, the fans are there. Last time the Bulldog men traveled to Philly, there were 3,200 Quaker fans waiting for them. And while 3,200 people did not come close to filling the Palestra’s 9,200 seats, they would have been spilling out the doors of the Bulldogs’ beloved John J. Lee Amphitheater, which spent most of last season less than full.
Yale sports have always suffered from the fact that many students seem uninterested in going to games. Unless the Elis are doing ridiculously well or playing Harvard, Yale teams can find themselves playing in front of crowds so small they make Ingalls or Yale Field look like neutral sites, perhaps even neutral sites in some remote region of Canada. But this lack of fans doesn’t just affect the softball players and women’s lacrosse players. Even marquee sports like hockey and men’s basketball can find themselves playing in front of less-than-impressive crowds when Brown or Dartmouth comes to town.
Small crowds at home are a problem because there is such a thing as home-field advantage. Sure, part of it is psychological. Everyone likes to think there are people rooting for them. But it is aural, too. Crowd noise can make a quarterback’s audibles useless, render a basketball team’s offensive communication impossible or break a shortstop’s concentration. Playing in someone else’s house can lead to miscommunication, low morale and stupid mistakes, both mental and physical.
While being the visiting team can be tough in places like Cameron or the Palestra, playing against a team whose fans haven’t come out for the game can have the opposite effect. There are few things more encouraging for the visitors than playing against a team whose fans don’t show up for the home games. Even in professional sports, teams such as the Red Sox that regularly sell out at home are often the ones with the best home records.
Yale teams could use more fans going to more games. Thankfully for Yale sports — and for athletic department revenues — their savior has arrived. He is Neil Horowitz ’09, and right now, he is just a freshman in Morse. By the time he graduates, he could be Yale’s Stuart Scott.
Horowitz is the godfather of a new YTV venture, a fledgling Yale sports show appropriately dubbed “YSPN.” The people at YTV have not updated their Web site in months, and the first listing on Google for “Neil Horowitz” is a clinical fellow at the Washington University School of Medicine. But if Neil and his show can get rolling, they could very well change the face of the Yale sports scene forever.
Every weekend Yalies make plays that are truly amazing. On any given Saturday, you could see Ashley Wright ’07 make a diving touchdown catch, Susie Starr ’08 stop a point-blank shot or Deena Caplette ’06 deke a defender right out of her skates. Moments such as those, when athletes reach inside themselves and pull off something that truly defies expectation, are why we watch sports. You do not have to watch David Wright’s one-handed, barehanded catch or Wayne Rooney’s latest goal on loop to see that greatness.
Gems such as those happen every weekend, even in the Ivy League. While the Yale Daily News article might have made you wish you had seen Eric Flato ’08 connect with Casey Hughes ’07 for a ridiculous alley-oop in last year’s Yale-Brown game, Horowitz’s YSPN would have shown it to you. YSPN will be a success because without leaving their common rooms, Yalies will be able to watch their friends and classmates make the kind of plays the pros make every day.
Some might argue that a widely-watched YSPN might reduce attendance at games. That seems unlikely. After all, there is no better tool than a highlight reel to convert the most athletically ignorant student into a die-hard sports fan. And once they’re hooked, YSPN viewers won’t just watch the highlights, they’ll go to the games, too.
As Yale sports publicity director Steve Conn told the News yesterday, the arrival of YSPN on the Yale sports scene is a win-win situation. It is a win for the athletes, who will start to see more fans at their games, and it is a win for the athletic department because it will up student interest in sports. Most importantly, however, it is a win for Yalies, who will finally be able to see their peers where they belong — on the highlight reel.
Nick Baumann is a senior in Morse College and former Sports Editor for the News. His column on Ivy League and Yale sports appears on Thursdays.