Making Athletics Matter

Spencer Belyea 13/01/15

It is very loud right now.  That’s pretty much all you can think of at the moment.  That, and also what you’re in the middle of is pretty amazing.  Thousands of people, screaming, the benches in front of you, rattling.  A sea of colour and spirit and madness all around you, all focused on one place. One 120 yard by 53 1/3 yard piece of grass, populated by 22 players, 11 sporting the same colours as you, the target of your support, the other 11 wearing different, hated colours, the target of your taunts, jeers, and boos.  This is the scene in football stadiums on university campuses around America, and if you change the dimensions to 150×65 and add a player to each side, you could theoretically be at Queen’s.  But it’s pretty obvious that you’re not at Queen’s, because, sadly, this is never the scene here.  One can only dream of anything remotely close to this.  But it can be a reality – and it isn’t that hard.  If we want, if we care, we can make this unbelievable scene a regularity at Queen’s.

 

I know what many of you are thinking at this point.  You’re saying “come on, you’re crazy, we’ll never be like American schools, they’re all insanely good at sports.”  Well, you’re right.  We’re not going to be – and nor should we be – a national football powerhouse with billionaire boosters, five star recruits, and head coaches that are the highest paid public employees in the province.  (You didn’t misread that – according to Deadspin, in 2013 there were 27 football coaches and 13 basketball coaches who were the highest paid employees in their respective states.)  Although it would be cool to say you had a tutorial with the next great football star (if they ever show up), that isn’t what I’m here to argue for.  The way the Canadian and American college athletics systems are set up makes it inevitable (and logical) for the best talent to go south of the border.  But the issues related to that are for another article entirely.  Because of this system, we’ll never have 100,000 seat stadiums and professional-grade facilities like at Michigan, Auburn, or Notre Dame.  But what we can have is the same passion, spirit, and intensity that the students at those schools have, because that isn’t something that is determined by the size of the budget or the quality of the players.

 

Coming to Queen’s, and entering the realm of university athletics, I was excited.  I’ve been to a bunch of college campuses in the States for sports, mainly football, and have fallen in love with the experience (in case you hadn’t figured that out yet).  And while I knew there was no comparison between going to games there and here, I still thought I’d get some of that experience here.  I was wrong.  Dead wrong.  The first game I was at, I’ll write it off, as it was populated mostly by frosh (yes, including me) who were still kinda dumbstruck by the whole university thing.  But the second game was Homecoming.  Yes, this was fun – it was full, it was sort of spirited, and people were kind of into it.  But let me tell you something – Homecoming here is a baseline for most places in the States – at best.  That is the minimum game day experience – and likely it will be better, significantly better.  The students are more passionate, more into it, more knowledgeable, and occasionally more drunk.  Ah, drinking.  Right.  It seems that maybe the reason why Homecoming was “better” was because most students were under the influence of alcohol (shocking, I know).  This isn’t to say that drinking and football don’t mix.  It’s just that they should go hand in hand, not one being a one-time excuse for the other, which is pretty much what the case is at Homecoming.  But by far the saddest experience I had at a football game at Queen’s was the playoff game last year.  It was the Ontario semifinals, and our first home playoff game since 2009.  It was November 2.  Yes, it was cold, but still above zero.  I got my tickets as soon as possible, and felt lucky to snag a seat.  That was clearly unnecessary.  At kickoff, the student side was maybe half full.  Maybe.  We’re talking about the playoffs!  How can we truly say we’re a spirited, supportive school when we can’t fill the stands for a playoff football game?  And it’s not like we’re talking about a big stadium here – the capacity is about 8500, with around half of that coming on the student side.  Given the student population of Queen’s, filling these seats shouldn’t be a difficult task.  And since it’s done with ease every year at Homecoming, it’s obviously quite possible.  And, even better, tickets are free here.  Free, as in, no cost.  Just show your student card at the desk in the ARC and you’ve got one.  This isn’t the case in the States, where full-season student ticket packages run from anywhere between $70 at Alabama to $252 at Ohio State, and they have no problem selling out.  Granted, if those prices were being charged here, people wouldn’t go – but the point is, there are no barriers to not showing up.  Tickets are free.  The stadium is nearby.  It’s just a lack of will on the part of the vast majority of the student body.

 

So, what can we do to improve the situation and really make Queen’s into a spirited community that rallies around its athletic teams?  1) Show up.  It’s pretty simple.  Go to the games, wear tricolour, cheer.  2) Know the players.  Or at least a player.  I was at a game in Louisville, and the girl sitting beside me was into the game and cheering, specifically for one player.  Why?  She knew him from class.  And this is at a school whose football stadium could fit our entire student body twice over.  Having some sort of a connection with the players isn’t very difficult, and it gives great you a great reason to support the team.  3)  Realize this is bigger than sports.  Sure, sports are the actual activity that you’re going to, but it’s really just the physical embodiment of school spirit and competition, which is something that we theoretically embrace here.

 

This isn’t about football, or money, or fame.  It’s about spirit and school pride.  Go out to the games not only because you like sports (though I must say that there are many more sports fans than people who actually show up) but because you love your school and want to support those who represent it on the bigger stage.  Sure, we don’t have stadiums that could seat almost the entire population of Kingston.  But that doesn’t matter.  Duke University has one of the smallest basketball facilities of any major program, yet the game experience there is considered one of the best in the world, collegiate or professional.  And speaking of stadiums, we’re getting a new football stadium for the 2016 year.  By all accounts, it should be great – new, state of the art, bigger capacity.  But it won’t matter if we don’t go.  Having a new stadium is only something to be proud of and flaunt if people use it.  Otherwise, it’s just an embarrassment and a sure sign of our lack of commitment. We won’t have facilities that rival those of NFL teams, but that doesn’t matter, either.  What matters, what makes university athletics great, is the passion and commitment the students have towards their teams.  This is something that so many American schools have, but something we clearly don’t.  But I think we can, and I think we should.  Queen’s students are a spirited, passionate group, and if we put some effort into it, starting simply by just showing up, we can turn a rather embarrassing facet of the school into one of the best aspects of it.

The Queen’s athletic schedule can be found here.

Spencer Belyea is an Assistant Editor at the Queen’s Tartan