Katie Sims / Sun Staff Photographer

Cornell cheerleaders during last year's homecoming football game.

September 18, 2017

McDEVITT | The Fall Blues of a Cornell Sports Fan

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Last Friday, I stood in a crowd of 100 sweaty 20-year-olds at the State Theatre of Ithaca to enjoy a performance by one of my favorite bands, Two Door Cinema Club. A long wait between the opener and the main act had left the crowd antsy, and as the build up was about to culminate in the band’s arrival onstage, I felt an urge to yell something. “Let’s! Go! Red!” I yelled at the top of my lungs into the hot and sticky air of the concert venue. At that moment –– as if I was the cue –– the crowd roared, the lights went out and the concert was underway.

Perhaps my exclamations were just fortuitously well-timed, but I nonetheless felt the same fire and energy in my bones that I feel whenever I hear those words. It had been ages since I spoke them so enthusiastically, and it left me with a hankering for more school spirit. As a sports fan and proud Cornellian, I often lament that it isn’t easier to find some school spirit around here.

When I applied as a high school student, they told me Cornell was “an Ivy League school with a Big Ten heart.” Surely a reference to the size of Cornell’s undergraduate population compared to the rest of the Ivy League, this saying does not carry much weight when it comes to Cornell Athletics. It is most noticeably off the mark during the fall season, when the dearth of quality sports teams is most evident.

Cornell boasts strong programs in the winter –– men’s and women’s hockey are some of the best programs the nation has to offer, each making an appearance in the ECAC Championship Game and NCAA Tournament last season. Cornell wrestling is a powerhouse in the sport and a perennial contender for national titles. Even the spring puts successful programs on display in men’s and women’s lacrosse, both tennis teams and lightweight rowing.

But the lineup of Fall teams leaves much to be desired, headlined by a football team that has struggled to win more than a couple of games per season. This is where that “Big Ten heart” saying seems to really be a misnomer. How can the student body be expected to embody that same spirit when the football team has finished with a winning record in just three of its last 21 seasons?

I, like many other sports fans at Cornell, genuinely want this to change. Put simply, if the football teams won games, students would show up. And the onus is on the athletics department to make that happen. Cornell is a school with a vast and successful alumni network; garnering support for a football team isn’t supposed to be difficult.

And this is not to say that the program lacks character; this would be far from the truth. Head coach David Archer’s ’05 op-ed last week puts that character on display, as he asks us to follow his team on a “journey.” I respect Archer’s position, and I mostly agree. But Cornell should have the resources to put a winning product on the field, both in football and in other programs, too. The fact is football is a popular sport, and Cornell is a large and unique school, so the formula to produce something special seems to be there.

There are hundreds of Cornell sports fans like me out there, who do little except sit around until the middle of October, waiting and waiting for hockey season to finally get underway. We are a penetrable market: sports fans eager for something to cling to year-round. Sports are our great distraction from rigorous academics and campus commitments. And while many of us cherish the time we spend watching football on Sundays, we desperately want to cherish watching it on Saturdays, too.