October 18, 2005

Homecoming Worth the Wait

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I will admit it. Cornell athletics have never really gotten my blood pumping. They just never situated themselves inside my sports heart. But this year, as a veteran member of Cornell’s student body, I vowed to change my ways and open my arms to our collegiate athletes.

I shamefully confess that this weekend was the first Cornell homecoming I ever participated in. Freshman year I slept until 2:30 p.m.; kickoff was set for 1. Last year I was swept up in a game of Ken Griffey, Jr. Baseball that lasted 23 innings. By the time the last out was recorded (I lost 7-6 in a heartbreaker), Cornell football was already mid-third quarter. Consequently, I decided to wait another year.

My review? Saturday was an afternoon of festivities I wish I had been a part of the past two years. I crawled up to Schoellkopf field around noon, my senses alert, like a kid on his first trip to the circus, trying to inhale every sensation with each breath. After pounding two dogs and a cheeseburger, I found my way up to the stadium. I watched the Red run all over a meek Georgetown team, scoring on each of its first three possessions. Within 10 minutes, I had seen an entire game’s worth of highlights – a field goal, a forced fumble leading to a rushing touchdown and senior quarterback Ryan Kuhn winding up on a tight throw capped by a ridiculously acrobatic touchdown catch by junior wide receiver Anthony Jackson. And, to top it all off, I got a free t-shirt.

However, despite my merriment, I was irked by what some might consider a mild offense. Why, when I looked across the field, did I see Georgetown and not Penn? Or Princeton? From my understanding, homecoming is a weekend when the entire school comes out to support its team, and equally important, to rain terror on an entrenched rival. Whether or not Georgetown was a formidable foe (which they undoubtedly proved they were not), I am at a loss as to why the homecoming game wasn’t against an Ancient Eight team, or at least, a team Cornell faces on an annual basis.

What’s more is that the prior weekend the Red faced off against then-No. 20 Ivy foe Harvard. Now, that would have been a game to watch, right? Taking the field as underdogs at home, and strutting off 60 minutes later as a league contender. Those are the sorts of games I’m scanning the schedule for the second it is posted.

So, can somebody please explain the logic? Who decided Cornell should play a league rival during fall break when more than three quarters of the student body are off campus, and follow it up with a homecoming game against an inconsequential opponent? Wouldn’t you think a red flag would go up somewhere in someone’s head during the scheduling process?

Homecoming, for any school, is a time where the campus is abuzz. Football is in the air. Year in and year out Schoellkopf draws its largest crowd for this event (when else does Cornell stack 11,000-plus in for a game?). Wouldn’t the university want to spotlight a heated rivalry on the season’s biggest stage as opposed to a less significant non-league game? It makes good sense from a rah-rah-team-spirit perspective. (It also makes good business sense, but that’s another story altogether.)

We must also consider the athletes themselves. I’ve been on teams before, and I know firsthand the benefits of playing at home. The strong cheering section, the crowd’s energy, and the added pressure of friends and family intently focusing on you, all contribute to a higher level of play. So, wouldn’t it make more sense to harness these home field advantages for a crucial, make-or-break game as opposed to one against Georgetown?

This irrational trend has not always been part of the festive weekend. From 2001 to 2003 the Red hosted Harvard, Yale and Brown, respectively – three league rivals – on homecoming. Come 2004, Cornell hosted Colgate, a non-league team. What prompted a change? I always thought, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Now, some might argue that there was a problem that needed mending: the Red, the home team and crowd favorite, lost each of those games. And on a day intended to celebrate a school and its team, wouldn’t it be more enjoyable to watch your team run away with, say, a 57-7 win, than be part of a demoralizing league loss? In theory, yes, but I refuse to subscribe to this train of thought. Sure, being able to scream and high-five strangers in Red is appealing, but that doesn’t mean it defines a good game. I’m not saying I’d rather sit on my hands and watch my team lose to a rival, but the prospect of a league game far outweighs the consideration of an almost meaningless outcome. This logic extends further than a college’s homecoming. Rivalries fuel all sports. Current records and historical performances are thrown out the window and two teams face off to the death, both sides stubbornly refusing to lose. Simply put: would you rather have a ticket to a Yankees-Devil Rays game or the same seat to watch another chapter in the Yanks-Sox saga? The added possibility of a loss is nothing – nothing – compared to the bonus inherent in the rivalry.

I’m not arguing that watching the Red blow out Georgetown completely tainted my first homecoming experience. The game more than satisfied my hunger for football, especially with how well the team played. But something in me cannot shake the feeling that both the crowd in the stands and the Cornell athletes were cheated out of what could have – nay – what should have been.

Ben Kopelman is a Sun Staff Writer. 2 Legit 2 Quit will appear every other Tuesday this semester.

Archived article by Ben Kopelman