Indiana football 2012: gameday approaches.

Jun 16, 2012; Bloomington, IN, USA; General view of Memorial Stadium on the University of Indiana campus. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

This post is sponsored by Fifth Third Bank. It's now just eight days until the first Saturday of the college football season. By this time next week, the first of the Thursday night games will be in the books. By late morning or early afternoon, the grassy fields south of Memorial Stadium will be beginning to fill up with tailgaters. I have been writing about IU football since 2007 (hard to believe this is my sixth season--an entire class of fifth year seniors has come and gone since I started this thing). Suffice it to say that I have had an ambivalent relationship with some of IU's gameday traditions.

The tradition that I addressed early in that first football season, which happens to have been IU's last bowl season, was the tendency of IU students to spend Saturday afternoons in the parking lots rather than in Memorial Stadium:

If someone with no familiarity with college football undertook a tour of college campuses during football season, he wouldn't notice much of a difference between IU and the traditional powers until he entered the stadium and wondered how a school with such a strong tailgating culture could possibly play a football game in front of only 30,000 people. Regardless of attendance in the stadium, the pleasant, park-like fields south of 17th Street always are populated with thousands of students, most of whom never enter the stadium for even a down. This was a problem even during the respectability of the mid-Mallory era, but in the 13 years since IU's last bowl bid it has become an epidemic.

As I said all those years ago, it's really not an issue that is susceptible to an easy solution. On one hand, the perpetual tailgaters turn IU football into a punchline. On the other hand, neither they nor anyone else can be bullied into going to the games. I think I've finally settled on the notion that as distasteful as it might be, the people in the lots are IU football's most likely customers in the event that the product turns around. And they do contribute to the pregame and postgame atmosphere. I only wish that they didn't keep the pregame atmosphere going during the game.

Setting all that aside, however, and whatever the struggles of the football program over the years, I love gameday in Bloomington. September and October are the best weather months of the year in central and southern Indiana, and perhaps no campus in the midwest shows its fall colors better than IU's campus. Whatever IU may lack in football atmosphere compared to some other Big Ten schools, a day at an IU football game is a day in Bloomington, and that's fine. As we've discussed, the tailgating atmosphere is very strong for a school without strong attendance, and not simply because of the tailgaters who don't attend the game. The wooded, park-like parking lots directly south of the stadium are a great setting. Personally, if I am going with a small group, I'll often forgo tailgating, park south of the stadium, and walk either to Yogi's or all the way to the establishments on Kirkwood if I'm ambitious or the weather is nice.

In recent years, particularly during the tenure of Terry Hoeppner, IU has attempted to add various official and formal traditions. Hoeppner introduced "The Walk," a formal routine in which the team walks through the tailgating areas on its way to the stadium, and "The Rock," which the team touches on its way out of the locker room. All that stuff is fine, but it's the informal traditions that matter most to me, simply the experience of being on and around a great campus on a beuatiful day.

What say you, readers? Any favorite gameday traditions, either formal or personal? Anything IU should do differently on gameday (other than outscore more teams)?

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