Sports | Sports Columns

TURNER: Is the promise of free apparel the only thing drawing you to athletic events?

Sprawled out on the bleachers, I took in my view of the Columbia women’s volleyball game. Seated behind a large crowd of swimmers, I heard the jeers and jabs at the opposition, Boston College. I began talking to my friend seated beside me.

That’s when I learned that most of the swimmers were, in fact, high school seniors being recruited by Columbia.

Looking around, I saw a scene that was all too familiar to me: an extremely empty arena. Sure, there were a couple of decent-sized groups, but they consisted of the marching band and the parents who had come to see their athletes play. I asked myself, “Where are you, Columbia?”

I wouldn’t have cared that much normally. It’s just that these swimmer recruits were seeing what I see all too often at games—piss-poor attendance. Ask yourself: Would you want to come to this school if you knew in advance that nobody was going to come watch you, even if you were good? Recruits are always shown the better aspects of college. They see a pretty campus. They’re treated to free food. And of course, they get to experience college nightlife and live like royalty for an entire weekend. But they’re not idiots—most of them will notice how poor attendance is at sporting events (aside from football and men’s basketball during conference play). Why come here when they could go to Harvard, Princeton, or Penn, schools that can offer a similar academic experience, but frequently have much better turnouts at home games?

Yes, I understand that this is a student body filled with many people who have absolutely no interest in sports. It’s the Ivy League, where academics theoretically come first. But it’s sad that the only way to draw students to athletic events—even for some of our good teams—is by handing out free stuff. The Athletic Department is well aware of this situation, which is why events with free apparel are always advertised on Facebook weeks in advance. “Come get your FREE T-shirt at (insert sporting event here)!!!” There’s rarely a significant turnout otherwise. (Trust me on this—I worked multiple basketball, volleyball, and wrestling matches for the AD last year.)

In light of all this, sadly, there’s no practical solution to this issue. The student body’s attitude isn’t going to change. The bread-and-circuses approach that the Athletic Department uses seems to work temporarily, despite it being superficial and shallow. So, why not extend that idea indefinitely?

Just kidding. (But seriously, go ahead if you want to, as long as it doesn’t add to our student life fee again.)

Jokes aside, however, actions speak louder than words, and there’s no reason a recruit should be deceived by the fake crowds when in reality, there’s a good chance that besides a few close family and friends, no one is going to be there to watch them perform on game day. It’s one thing to suck up to a recruit, but to lie to them is an entirely different story. 

That’s not even mentioning the guys actually playing. Even as an athlete who spent half his time with his head underwater, I still got a kick out of seeing people there cheering me on.

This isn’t to say that poor attendance is the sole source or even a major source of all of the issues I’ve mentioned (although it is for some), or that better attendance is a panacea for Columbia athletics. But instead of petitioning the administration and initiating dialogues and such for change—change, which, at best, will go unnoticed by many corners of the student body, and, at worst, will get killed by higher-ups—we can solve part of the matter ourselves. 

All you need to do is look at the list of Columbia sports events, choose one or two you like each semester, and go.

Ryan Turner is a Columbia College sophomore. He is a former member of the men’s swimming and diving team. Blood, Sweat, and Cheers runs biweekly.

sports@columbiaspectator.com  |  @CUSpecSports

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