May 1, 2008

Lamenting the ‘Criminalization of the Lynah Faithful’

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As the academic year winds down, we would like to call the Cornell community’s attention to an issue that affects a significant percentage of students: the poor treatment of hockey fans by the Athletic Department.
High prices for student tickets limit the Cornell fan base and result in empty seats. By comparison, 2008 NCAA champion Boston College offers free tickets to students, as do ECAC Hockey regular season champion Clarkson, Hockey East powerhouses Maine and New Hampshire and CCHA tournament finalist Miami (Ohio).
We are not so naïve as to expect free student tickets, but it should be noted that the vast majority of schools — including those with great hockey traditions — charge no more than single-digit prices for each game. One Athletics staffer from another ECAC school expressed genuine disbelief that Cornell student tickets cost $247 this year.
Obviously, many prospective Lynah Faithful, especially those from modest backgrounds, balk at this price tag. While we respect Athletics’ right to price tickets according to what the market will tolerate, the glaring rows of empty seats during many games this year testify to the fact that admission has become prohibitively expensive for many Cornellians.
The Red has won over 70 percent of home games since Lynah Rink opened in 1957, but empty seats currently limit this home ice advantage. The high price and increasingly convoluted process of buying tickets, coupled with the team’s relative mediocrity, produce fewer and fewer undergraduates who want to buy tickets.
Director of Athletics Andy Noel can preach about creating a family-friendly atmosphere at Lynah, but overall, his administration’s hard-line policies have hampered fan enthusiasm and creativity.
The tradition of throwing fish at Harvard, which Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86 described in the New York Times in 2006 as “a fun tradition that has lived on over the years,” has been stifled under Noel’s tenure, as security guards pat down students entering the rink.
This criminalization of the Lynah Faithful extends to cheering, as students frequently lament that they are afraid to start new cheers or yell loudly for fear of having their season tickets revoked (and not refunded) by the administration. Ushers patrol the staircases and openly glaring at students, as if daring them to finish “rough ’em up …”
One member of the Lynah Faithful recently pointed out to us, “Few businesses treat their biggest customers with the least respect.”
As fans of Cornell sports in general, we cannot help but notice that hockey fans are treated much worse than supporters of other top varsity sports. Admission to football, basketball and wrestling contests are free for Big Red Sports Pass holders, and fans are often showered with free t-shirts, game previews and food as they enter the stands. We have yet to hear of anyone being evicted from one of these other events for cheering improperly. By comparison, even after spending $247 for tickets, Lynah Faithful are fleeced an extra $5 for the requisite t-shirt. Furthermore, while the price of hockey tickets will invariably remain high, the Big Red Sports Pass will be subsidized by the SAFC next year.
Some have made the argument that Cornell must charge high ticket prices for hockey because it loses money on nearly every other sport, but surely the administration should be able to turn a profit on men’s basketball (22-6 this year), men’s lacrosse (25-4 last two seasons) or wrestling (eight all-Americans in the last two years). Why charge so much at Lynah yet pass out freebies next door at Newman?
The Lynah Faithful have been an invaluable ingredient to the success of the Red over the years, evidenced by the fact that Lynah is one of the most difficult college hockey rinks to play in on the road. However, it is increasingly clear that hockey fans are no longer valued by the Athletics Department, and it is a two-way street. While Cornell hockey fans are renowned for traveling in droves to road games (“Lynah East”), there was comparatively very little undergraduate presence at away contests this year.
As Cornell has missed the NCAA tournament each of the last two years, a supportive, vocal fan base is more valuable than ever — we suggest several policy changes for the upcoming season to revive that fan base.
First, we need to improve the ticket lottery system. As it stands, there is no mechanism to ensure that the most dedicated fans have an opportunity to receive tickets. Because the first number for underclassmen tickets was 356 this year, those privileged enough to “stand in line” excluded the first 355 undergraduates who picked up line numbers, a group that included many of the biggest and most informed fans. The Athletics Department even tightened policies from the 2006 line by prohibiting the trading of line numbers.
A return to general admission seating would improve the Lynah atmosphere, as the most dedicated fans who arrive earliest could sit wherever they please amongst student seats. There would be fewer gaping holes in prime seating areas, and friends could always sit together.
We would also love to see Athletics organize bus trips to road games. These exciting journeys would provide an easy opportunity for students without cars to see the team on the road and would cultivate a new generation of devoted Lynah Faithful. It would also give a well-needed boost to a team that was 9-9-1 away from home this year. Last season, Athletics chartered a “Red Zone Fan Bus” to the lacrosse game at Syracuse, but only the Cornell Hockey Association drives to Colgate.
As dedicated fans, we have spent considerable time, money and effort following Cornell hockey, and it isn’t too much to ask that our efforts be appreciated.
We implore you to end the double standard for hockey fans, do everything possible to reduce ticket prices and stop the flawed crusade to turn the most feared college hockey rink in the country into a day-care center. For many of us, hockey is a highlight of our Cornell experience. Please don’t ruin it.

The authors are sophomore members of the Lynah Faithful. Mitchell Alva is a Sun Staff Writer and Elie Bilmes is a Sun Contributor.