February 20, 2007

If You Serve It, They Will Come

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Most likely, you missed the best sporting event on campus Friday night. In fact, almost 99 percent of campus missed it.

Yes, the men’s hockey team did beat Quinnipiac 2-0 in probably its most important win of the season thus far, but the game I’m talking about did not take place at Lynah Rink.

Instead, if you really were looking for the most exciting and dramatic contest in Ithaca that night, you would have wanted to watch the women’s basketball team use a 7-0 run in the last 1:20 of play to beat Princeton 69-66 next door at Newman Arena.

Unfortunately, less than a 100 of the 20,000-plus Cornell students were in attendance to see it (total attendance at the game was 247 and most were parents or locals).

Now, please don’t tell me that all the sports fans of that population were in Lynah at the time. First, only 2,000 or so students have hockey tickets. And, further, standing in section D during the first intermission, it was clear that at least a third of the seats in that section were empty.

Also, please don’t tell me the tiny turnout for women’s basketball had anything to do with its recent play. The Red was, and still is, on-track for its best Ivy campaign ever. Heading into Friday night’s game, the team was 5-3 in the conference, just a game and a half behind first-place Harvard and very much in the hunt for the program’s first ever league title.

Lastly, I really can’t believe that the low attendance rates are for a lack of school spirit. I see way too much Cornell clothing being worn on campus each day to believe that. Additionally, this is the same community that comes together to celebrate a wood and metal Dragon being marched down a street or scream as one the night before finals. There’s got to be at least a sizeable sense of Cornell pride out there for us to follow these traditions.

So, after ruling out those factors, what then is the reason that Cornell Athletics can’t get more students into the seats at Newman Arena — or even Schoellkopf field for that matter — despite some absolutely great games?

I’m not sure what exactly it’s going to take to do this, but I do have one idea:


Okay, and maybe food, too, but mostly beer.

In five of Cornell’s six home football games this season, the team averaged 4,124 fans. In the one other game, the Big Red played in front of 9,429 backers.

That’s double the average attendance for other games. No, wait, that’s almost 1,400 more than double the average attendance for all the other games. Can you guess the difference?

If you said Homecoming, you got it. Maybe some of those extra 5,000 fans are actually alumni and other well-wishers back in Ithaca for the weekend. But, I don’t think that can account for all of it.

No, to really understand the attendance spike, all you need to do is shift your attention to the parking lots outside Schoellkopf. In the only true Cornell tailgating event of the year, throngs of students gather to drink beer and barbeque.

If the promise of alcohol and food — more likely alcohol — is motivation enough to get students to wake up early and make their way up East Hill that Saturday morning, why shouldn’t it work all the time?

It’s playing off two of the basic tenets of Cornell life. If you want people to come to a meeting — you promise food. If you want people to come to your party — you promise alcohol and make sure it doesn’t run out.

If you want students to come to a Cornell sporting event — besides hockey — maybe beer is what it takes. Hey, it works for Homecoming.

So, there it is Cornell Athletics. If you want to students to leave their couches in Collegetown and trudge through Ithaca’s frigid winter to attend a basketball game, borrow a lesson from the only institution that can consistently do just that — the bars — and serve beer.

Understandably, the University won’t want to sell alcohol directly in its stadiums. The risks that come from having fans in the stands drinking are definitely not worth the reward. However, with the use of other nearby facilities at its disposal — maybe the impressive Hall of Fame Room in Schoellkopf House or even the Big Red Barn — to sponsor some good pre-gaming (forgive the pun) why not try it?

The fact of the matter is that now, no matter how you look at it, the attendance at Cornell athletic events is low. The women’s basketball team averages a home attendance of 175, which is embarrassing in comparison to its average road crowd of 778. The situation is not much different for the men’s basketball team with just 1,114 fans packing the stands for home games, compared to 2,927 on the road.

These teams not only deserve a greater backing at home, they need the larger crowd to thrive off of — just ask any Red player or coach. Cornell Athletics should aim to make opponents fear Newman and Schoellkopf as much as they fear Lynah. And, if beer is what it takes to do that, maybe it should be considered.

Scott Reich is a Sun Staff Writer.Scotty Doesn’t Know will appear every other Tuesday this semester.