Seemingly long gone are the days when people went to sporting events to watch the game. Go to a sporting event today, a sporting event at any level from high school and up, and you'll find that the game is no longer about the game.
Go to a high school game and you'll see teenage boys who've dressed up in ridiculous costumes in order to standout. Just a few rows behind where they're standing, there are 15 or 20 girls who are sitting down, unable to see the game because of the kid standing in front of them with the 12-foot tall banana costume. But they don't care. Half of them are turned around the other way anyway, making it easier to have a conversation with their friends when they take the occasion break from texting, tweeting, and their tall, half and half, no whip, vanilla latte with three shots of espresso.
Go to a professional event. Golf tournament? It's all about the autographs. Basketball game? Suits who are more consumed with the business deals being made in the suites, girlfriends there to ask the schmuck who brought them there for a 3rd date if they leave in the 3rd quarter, and 5,000 children jumping and screaming to be on the jumbotron, and 4,985 children subsequently crying because they didn't make it. (Sorry kid, you're not cute enough.) Football game? Forget about it. How can you watch the game when you have to check your fantasy lineup every four minutes?
I went to an Indianapolis Indians game the other day, and I was legitimately concerned that the children sitting on the lawn were going to die after they slammed into each other, putting more pressure on the outfield wall than you all put on Tom Crean. All of it for a t-shirt.
I understand that some people don't have the money to take their kids to the game and get them an Indians shirt. I understand that some of them were hopped up on sugar and with a babysitter who didn't care what they did as long as they left her alone for a few minutes. And so I forgive those children most of the time. But it's not just kids. Adults will do the same thing.
We've all seen the highlights, if you call them that, on SportsCenter or maybe at a live game where a guy reaches over three rows, two of which had about 40 kids in them, to grab a foul ball. "Give the kid the ball." Do they? Not nearly enough.
That brings me to the college game. Colleges are made up of the most unique group of people in the world: 18-25 year olds, most of whom wake up as adults but go to bed as children. A dramatic situation with a roommate or anything else in their hormonal lives can prompt the change. But more than anything else, the thing that turns these students into children is alcohol.
Here's a promise: This is not turning into an article where I speak about the ills of alcohol. On the contrary, you will never read anything produced by my fingertips that suggests anything even close to "don't drink." Even if I felt that way, it wouldn't be my place to tell anyone else what to do or when to do it.
But it would be silly to write a piece about the atmosphere at sporting events and not mention alcohol.
Every school can be different, and thus alcohol can play a different role in socialization and athletics. I went to Wabash, an all-male college of 900 students that had a weird mixture of "there for the game" vs. "there to socialize." On any given Wednesday night during basketball season, we'd drink for an hour or two before the game, fill up the student section of our gym, or any other gym within a couple hundred miles, and jump and scream our asses off. Then we'd go back to doing homework and writing papers. We'd show up every Saturday during football season, or for weekday baseball games, and do quite a bit of tailgating. And our student section would be a lot less cohesive and slightly less interested in the games (unless we were playing DePauw). There were always our pro-us and anti-them chants to bring it back to the game, but there's no question that alcohol changed what types of fans we were.
The aforementioned DePauw, where our EIC, Kyle, did his undergraduate studies, was a different animal. Even for the Monon Bell game, the contest was just another occasion to drink. Most of those students who tailgated didn't make it into the game. They had more shots to down and a nap to take so that they weren't too tired to drink and party that night.
Indiana University, in all her pride and glory, is a mixture of all of these examples. You have the dudes in crazy outfits. You have the people who are at the game just to socialize, and they couldn't tell you the score when they left.
In the Winter, when it comes to men's basketball, they're like Wabash. They fill the student section (unless they're playing North Southeast State Tech) and are there not just to watch the game, but to change it. Occasionally, a Saturday night game may be changed a little bit because of all the day drinking they've been able to do at Kilroy's, but they always get into the game, eventually.
In the Fall, they're like DePauw. Drive up Indiana Avenue at 10AM on Saturday morning before a noon kickoff. You'll see undergrads stumbling from Kirkwood up to the tailgate area just South of the stadium. Then drive up Indiana Avenue at 12:15 PM on Saturday afternoon after a noon kickoff. You'll see those same undergrads dispersing in several different directions. Some head East to the campus living units. Some head West to apartments. Some head South back to Kirkwood. And a very, very few of them head to Memorial Stadium.
All of this is to setup these questions: How do you get them interested? And once they're interested, how do you get them to stay?
It's easy with basketball. The five banners on the wall help. So does the recent success of the 2012 team. (Don't you dare comment on this article and try to argue about whether that team was actually successful.) The candystripes are cool, the building is loud, and the traditions are awesome enough that they appeal to even the most anti-tradition generation this county has ever known.
It's not easy with football. A freshman matriculating at IU this Fall was a 5th grader the last time the Hoosiers played in a bowl game and finished with a winning record. Hell, I'm a 3rd-year law student and I was one year old the last time they won a bowl game. There are no traditions, at least none that matter to them. Most of them don't know who Terry Hoeppner was or why they should care that he put a rock in the endzone. The ones not form Indiana may not even understand what a rock has to do with "Hoosiers." The victory flag doesn't go up enough for anyone to notice that it could be a tradition.
The closest thing to a tradition at Memorial Stadium is that someone will lose a promotional contest but still get the prize.
And that brings me to my answers for those two questions:
How do you get them interested?
So, assuming that they won't win, or that even if they do, no one will care, it depends on what they can get out of it. Need to beat Purdue to make a bowl game? They'll come, because they might get to jump down from the stands and run onto the field after Austin Starr makes a hooking bomb. But other than that? They've got free t-shirts to pick up at Kilroy's.
So, the question is not How do you get them interested? The question is What do we give them?
Think back to your time in college, or high school. What was the thing you wanted to do the least (other than go to class)? And what could they have done to make you go? Now answer those same questions and imagine you have a budget big enough to buy every firework in three states like Fred Glass does.
That's what I thought about. Here are a few stupid things I came up with:
1. Kick for tuition! Every student must have their Student ID to get into a sporting event with a student ticket. The athletic department and football program should set up a few stands outside the student section an hour before kickoff. They should let the students in attendance come and get their IDs scanned, and then, out of the students who scanned in before kickoff, they pick two to come onto the field during a TV timeout in the 4th quarter to kick an extra point. If they miss, they get a T-shirt, because everybody's a winner at The Rock (except the home team). If they make it, they win some tuition money, $5,000 let's say. And, as the cherry on top, if they make it, they get free tickets to a basketball game. And at that basketball game, they get to take a half court shot. And if they make that half court shot, they get free tuition. For FOUR YEARS.
The cost: It really wouldn't be that costly. There are seven home games in football this year. So, 14 students get to kick an extra point. That's a max of $70,000. But let's be realistic and say that 7 make it. $35,000.
Then, seven get a shot from half court. According to this article, the odds are 50:1 if you get one shot from half court. So, what, once every seven years you might get a winner who gets four years of tuition? That too much for the athletic department? If so, get the promotion insured.
The benefit: I would've gone to biology lectures for a chance, even a long shot, to win tuition. And I would've stayed as long as necessary. And some students might do that with IU football. Notice, you have to get there before kickoff. So, they're there to start the game. Then, the promotion is in the 4th quarter, so they have to stay. Get em in and keep in.
2. Incentivized basketball seating. This one might be a tad tough, due to the slight overlap in the seasons, but there has to be a way to make it feasible. Let students sign up for the contest, and then setup a stand for scanning IDs, just like in my first stupid idea. For their attendance at football games to count, they have to scan in and OUT. There will be no showing up to scan your ID and then leaving to do more tailgating. You're going to sit there, watch IU football, and like it. Whenever the deadline is for cutting basketball tickets, give preferential seating to those who have acquired the most "points" for suffering through Hoosier football. And, you know what, do the same thing for basketball so that people show up against bad teams. Damn undergrads.
3. THE WORLD'S LARGEST FIREWORKS EXTRAVAGANZA FOLLOWED BY AN ATTEMPT TO SET A WORLD RECORD OF HAVING THE MOST PEOPLE TO EVER SEW THE SAME FABRIC AS WE MAKE AN EVEN BIGGER VICTORY FLAG!!!!!!!!!! No? Moving on...
4. Kevin Wilson's friend JR brings some of his WWE boys and they have a Battle Royal in Knothole Park. I think this one could gain traction. Think about Roman Reigns spearing Seth Rollins through that fence just as Zander Diamont catches a pass from Nate Sudfeld to beat Ohio State. Bray Wyatt lying in waiting and deliver a Sister Abigail to Jim Harbaugh as Michigan heads to the locker room at halftime. Or best yet, think about Dean Ambrose climbing the victory pole and jumping off to deliver a flying elbow to a Rutgers running back as he jumps over the line trying to ruin the shutout.
Tell us your promotional ideas in the comment section. We'll pass the info along to King Zander and see if we can't put some butts in seats.