An early Saturday morning, face paint, Columbia blue apparel, and, of course, a healthy dose of libations in honor of the Lions—Homecoming weekend really is perhaps the only time all year when Columbia students have the opportunity to feel like they go to the University of Michigan.
Well, almost. As I reminisce about (and recover from) Homecoming this past weekend, I can’t help but wonder what it must feel like to attend a university where such athletic ardor and celebration is a weekly occurrence.
Heading to the game, everyone knew that our chances to best last year’s defending champion Penn were slim. A 16th straight win against Columbia mattered little to the overall effect of the weekend. The typically empty stands were instead a moving sea of light blue, and everywhere around me, I could see people enjoying themselves. Whether they were screaming about confusion between Penn and Penn State, ardently cheering for the Lions, or simply too drunk to care about what was happening around them, Columbia students showed up in full force and enjoyed the atmosphere.
Of course Homecoming is a special day, and we can’t reasonably expect such an atmosphere every weekend as students might at Michigan. What the filled stands and the loud chants show us, though, is that as a student body we certainly have the capacity to bring legitimate fandom to a big event. Thus the natural solution, not just for the benefit of our athletics, but also for the overall benefit of the environment on campus, is to increase the number of big sporting events.
People often say that attendance is based on winning, and that’s true to an extent. But look at our football team. Although it hasn’t won a single game this season and hasn’t won its Homecoming game since 2000, there were few empty seats in the students’ section this past Saturday.
A strong turnout to an athletic event need not be based on a team’s dominance. Rather, much of the attendance is based on the “event” nature of the game. Sure, Homecoming is a sacred tradition, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be the only one.
Although we may not have anything like a Harvard–Yale football game or Princeton–Penn basketball rivalry, in the short Ivy League season every game is a big one. Even though directly offering student groups money in exchange for attending games might be a bit blunt, the notion of incentivizing athletic meets and trying to turn them into larger-scale events is a great one.
As the second biggest college sport (after football, obviously), men’s basketball is the logical target for these efforts. It already has a Greek Night and a Senior Night, which have both been successful events. So why not add some more special games targeted at different groups on campus, or more entertainment throughout the game, like you might see at Madison Square Garden?
I suggest making the first home Ivy game this year—Harvard, Feb. 14—into one of these nights. In fact, make the game when Columbia hosts Harvard special every year. Harvard is always a great draw, with Levien having been close to capacity each of the past two years when the Crimson came to town. (And we even got a glimpse of Jeremy Lin and Spike Lee in the crowd in 2012.) The nature of the basketball season schedule makes a Homecoming-type game quite natural, especially this season, with the team’s first five conference games coming on the road. And there’s a good chance it’ll actually be competitive—the Lions blew out Harvard last season at home and only lost in overtime the year before that.
There is potential for these sorts of games to be even bigger than they are now. With a little work, they could become the spring semester’s version of Homecoming. I think everyone would enjoy that.
Alexander Bernstein is a Columbia College sophomore. Contrarian Review runs biweekly.