The Friday afternoon dining hall pep rally — replete with open microphone, free T-shirts and background music — is a fitting metaphor for a sobering reality of Yale athletics in the last decade: student apathy. Officers from the Department of Athletics and team coaches sporadically set up a makeshift stage in Commons during lunch and engage in everything short of pleading to encourage students to attend the weekend’s free games. Invariably, they are ignored, and so too, sadly, are the teams.
Tuesday’s men’s basketball game against Penn State brought fewer than 1,700 fans. Spectators could not have asked for a better mid-week contest. Yet the 3,100-seat John J. Lee Amphitheater was only half full. Yale entered the game sitting atop the Ivy League with its undefeated conference record, and it was hosting an opponent from the Big Ten — one of the nation’s most powerful conferences — for the first time ever. The Bulldogs have even been picked by ESPN’s senior college basketball writer as the dark horse for the Ancient Eight title.
Anyone who skipped the game missed an inspiring contest, as the sons of Elis kept pace with the powerful Nittany Lions for the entire first half, proving they deserved to be playing on the same court as one of the better teams in the nation. The Yale community could no longer claim the lack of first-rate play as the reason for not attending basketball events.
To those who have argued, as many have, that Yale varsity athletic programs are not on par with the best in the nation, this was gentle reminder that Yale can play with the best. But the real issue is a blanket sense of indifference that has fallen over the campus.
The Athletics Department has done its part in trying to bolster the crowds at sporting events, peppering billboards with posters and offering free admission and transportation to all athletic events. They realize that a larger crowd will translate in a better performance by their athletes. Further credit needs to be given to the Athletics Department for scheduling a quality opponent to play at the Lee Amphitheater last Tuesday. It is not easy to convince a Big Ten team to play a game at an Ivy League institution, and the game offered the Yale community a chance to see collegiate basketball at its finest.
Tomorrow, there is another treat in store for athletic fans, as the men’s hockey team plays host to Notre Dame at the New Haven Coliseum, the city’s largest indoor sports venue. The game will put one the of the biggest names in collegiate athletics on an even bigger stage. For the first time in 17 years, Yale hockey will return to the Coliseum, giving the team a chance to play before a crowd larger than the 3,486 that pack Ingalls Rink for a typical Bulldog hockey match.
Both the basketball game against Penn State and the hockey game versus Notre Dame have been heavily promoted in an effort to encourage more students to attend the games.
An empty Coliseum would signal an all-time low in support for athletics. It is up to students to give teams the crowd they crave.