February 20, 2023

MEHLER | An Athletics Convert

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How many Cornell students played or captained a varsity sport in high school? I could not find any specific data points online but speaking with other students, you almost certainly can find a higher percentage of students that played varsity athletics in high school than the current 8 percent of Cornellians that still do. So what changed from high school to college that resulted in less students playing varsity sports?

For one, Ivy League Division I athletics are more difficult in every way compared to any high school sports team. The expectation to balance Cornell academics, fully commit to your team and all the other requirements to remain a student in good standing present themselves. But one of the main reasons is that most students do not come to Cornell to play varsity sports. At most, only that same number of 8 percent did.

When students come to Cornell, they find other ways to stay engaged physically, as the bar for varsity athletics is high. Before the pandemic, around one-third of students were in a club sport — even more students bought a gym membership on campus. So Cornellians certainly care about being in shape, but what happened to caring about the game?

I have always attended the Homecoming game for Cornell, but after going to three and missing one due to Covid-19, I believe most people do not go to Homecoming for the football game, but rather the opportunity to have fun with friends, maybe connect with alumni and certainly win free stuff ranging from shirts to food to stickers. Post-Homecoming, what sporting events do people attend?

In four years, I have seen dozens of Cornell teams play, with almost the entirety of that being bulked into my senior year. Across men’s and women’s teams and from football to wrestling, basketball to track and volleyball to baseball, I have seen thin to fully packed audiences. Two trends evidently appeared: the “Homecoming Effect” among attendees and the teams simply performing well.

The “Homecoming Effect” could be rephrased as the free stuff effect, where whenever free things are offered, students appear. Free Boatyard Grill for going to the men’s basketball game? Free hats for attending the women’s hockey game? The word free seems to be enough to pack an arena.

But what about performing well? I knew our hockey and wrestling teams regularly perform very well before coming to campus. Even this past year, our soccer team made it to the sweet sixteen in the NCAA tournament and the lacrosse team placed second in their NCAA tournament. However, across all teams, no sports complex on campus has had as much energy as the Friedman Center or Lynah Rink when those teams compete. Performing well generates excitement and as anyone else in the Lynah Faithful can tell you, that excitement begets further strong showings in tournaments and national rankings.

Reflecting upon all of the different sporting events I have seen at Cornell, I wish I had realized earlier that our sports teams are fun to go to, regardless of the “Homecoming Effect” or them playing well.  It was only after I bought hockey season tickets for this year did I realize that there might be something more in going to the other events our Big Red Sports Pass (which we have already paid for) offers for us.

My message for this column is simple: go to some of Cornell’s games. You may not get a free t-shirt at every single one and I promise you that we will not win every game or meet either. But a certain pride and excitement about seeing the Red do well cannot be replicated elsewhere.

We may not be a Big 10 (actually 14…) school with massive facilities that always sends our teams to the March Madness Final Four or national football championship, however, the Ivy League made the choice to direct more of our resources into our academics. I believe that has paid off for the betterment of our students.

Yet still, Cornell has won dozens of national championships and stands to win even more this year in lacrosse, hockey and wrestling. It makes for a pretty exciting memory to have seen an extraordinary game, regardless of Cornell’s win or loss. I encourage everyone to go to more games than just Homecoming.  Join the Lynah Faithful, attend a sport you never played or even go to the next football game. At the very least, you will be supporting fellow students who put their all into something they love and something we all ought to love as well.

Patrick J. Mehler (he/him) is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected]