If you’re still going to be in town, what are you doing tomorrow night at 7? If you’re like most Yale students, your answer is, “I don’t know, maybe go out, whatever.”
Make that “whatever” a couple of hours well spent at the John J. Lee Amphitheater. And, while you’re at it, plan a return trip for the same time the next night. Because, in case you didn’t know, an NCAA tournament berth is on the line this weekend in New Haven.
Unfortunately, many students already will have vacated campus for spring break by the time the Yale men’s basketball team takes the floor against perennial league power Princeton tomorrow night. Even more students likely will be gone by the time defending Ivy League champion Pennsylvania comes to town Saturday. These are the unfortunate effects of a conference schedule over which the Yale athletics department has no control. That’s why it’s so important that every student who is still around attends the games this weekend.
Yale students often complain that there aren’t enough fun things to do on campus. This weekend’s contests will provide a rare opportunity to experience one of the most exciting social aspects of college life — a successful basketball team. With identical 7-4 league records, Yale and Brown sit just one game behind co-leaders Penn and Princeton. If the Elis win tomorrow and Saturday, they will at least have a share of the league lead with just one game remaining in the regular season. An Ancient Eight title would give the Bulldogs their first trip in 39 years to the NCAA tournament, often considered the most thrilling event in sports.
In essence, the tournament starts tomorrow for Yale. But the turnout of the students will determine the energy level in the amphitheater. A gym packed with boisterous Yale rooters would give the Elis a distinct home-court advantage, which could mean the difference between a narrow loss and a buzzer-beating victory. A half-filled, dead arena would send the team a signal that no one on campus cares about its success this season. It would also likely amuse the visiting squads on both nights, given that they are used to playing before large, partisan crowds at their respective homes.
For most games this season, the seats have been woefully empty, creating an eerie feeling at the amphitheater. Given the men’s basketball program’s lack of success in recent years and Yalies’ plethora of academic and social commitments, the low attendance levels are somewhat understandable. However, anything less than a full house this weekend would be disgraceful.
On the national sports scene, a trip to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is far more significant than an Ivy League football championship or an ECAC hockey title. The tournament is the most recognized event in college sports, and it would provide Yale with a rare opportunity to prove its athletic prowess on a national scale. And don’t even try to make the argument that such success might diminish the University’s stature as an academic powerhouse, because Princeton’s men’s hoops program has thrived for years without adversely affecting its overall reputation one bit.
The Bulldogs were picked to finish last in the pre-season Ivy League media poll. They may have to win a playoff game or two to beat out the Tigers, Quakers or Bears for the Ivy League title if they are tied for the league lead after the Elis’ game at Brown next Wednesday.
But if they can pull off the feat, it would go down as one of the greatest accomplishments in Yale sports history. As I wrote in this column last week, the unlikely event would trigger a massive reaction among the national sports media. A title would also catapult the program into the league’s elite, helping recruiting and heightening national exposure next year and beyond.
In order to attain this once-unthinkable goal, the men’s basketball squad needs your help. There’s no need to worry about being a fair-weather fan — the team will gladly accept all bandwagon jumpers if it means a few more voices of support. Cost and convenience are not issues either, since games are free for students, and the gym is located right on campus.
I realize that not every Yale student loves college basketball. Not everyone believes the Elis have a legitimate chance to sweep the league’s two traditional powers. And not all members of the Yale community think athletic success should be valued here. But just about every Yalie wants the school to look good to the rest of the world. A trip to the Big Dance would help that cause tremendously, and every fan in attendance this weekend can contribute.
Plus, if the crowd and the players do their parts, you just might have a heck of a good time along the way.