Though it is 400 miles away from New Haven, on Saturday night, the Consol Energy Center may as well have been The Whale. From the drop of the puck until the team left the ice, over 200 students in the Yale section controlled the atmosphere in the arena nearly as well as the Bulldogs controlled play on the ice. We were their sixth man, and every one of us will look back on this weekend as a highlight of our college experience.
But the Yale-sponsored buses that brought students to Pittsburgh for the Frozen Four almost weren’t sent. After the administration made its initial decision not to subsidize student transportation to the games, it seemed that only a handful of students would be making the trip. It took a well-coordinated last-minute effort by the Athletics Department, the Dean’s Office and the Yale College Council to send one bus to Pittsburgh on Thursday and then the caravan on Saturday night to support our boys. The full buses to Pittsburgh and a packed viewing party at Payne Whitney suggest that Yale students care more about athletics than our administration assumes. Yale should view the excitement and college unity generated by this momentous weekend as a glimpse of what sports really mean to this campus.
Athletics are an integral part of the Yale experience and have been since the early days of Yale football. Unlike other extracurriculars, which tend to divide students into small pockets of individual interests, athletics are transcendent by nature. They unite us beyond our unique backgrounds, our idiosyncratic political loyalties and our residential college bubbles. After graduation, cheering on the Bulldogs keeps alumni tied to Yale and — if the conversations we had this weekend in Pittsburgh are any indication — gives students and alumni a sustainable common bond. Athletics also cross town-gown lines and bring Yalies and New Haveners together as a community — except maybe when we play the Bobcats. These are the reasons we, as a university, must make every effort to bring out the Bulldogs fan in every student.
We have a number of suggestions that we believe can help foster the culture of athletic support that is so important. First, when freshmen arrive on campus in the fall, they should automatically receive the weekly Yale Athletics emails that currently go out only to students who “opt-in.” Other organizations put forth an incredible effort at the activities bazaar to recruit freshmen for their panlists, and some groups even go to the length of adding all freshmen to their email lists. Currently, Yale Athletics has no presence at the activities bazaar and no way to reach out to potential new fans. Having a means of communication would enable the Athletics Department to keep students informed and engaged.
Second, we need a group of students to help the Athletics Department understand and capitalize on student interest and effectively rally Yale’s campus fan-base. The Whaling Crew is a good start, but we need an organization that has the official backing of the Yale administration to really solidify their position in the eyes of students.
Third, the Athletics Department should track attendance for the most popular sports and reward the most loyal fans, whether it be with a free bus to the basketball game at Harvard, an exclusive dinner with a head coach or a free t-shirt. This would require students to swipe in to games that already require tickets, a practice that is commonplace at other universities. Not only would this give students incentives to go to games, but it would also allow Yale Athletics to connect with their biggest fans.
Finally, the administration needs to change its attitude toward the value of sports on campus. This is not just about hockey; it’s not just about this national title — athletics are a critical part of what makes the Yale tradition so great. The athletes who wear our university’s name across their chests represent each and every one of us and deserve our institutional support. They are our classmates, roommates and friends and we are their biggest fans. It is time for Yale to take the steps necessary to help us show our support for them every single game. Our campus is ready and the time has never been better.
Will Jordan and Steven Morales are seniors in Branford College. Contact them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org .