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It’s Friday night at Matthew’s Arena where the men’s hockey team is ready to take on the University of New Hampshire Wildcats and it seems as if nobody is here except for UNH fans. Where are the Northeastern fans? Instead of Northeastern’s black and red, the Wildcat’s blue is overtaking the arena.
Why is Northeastern so different from other universities who have thriving traditions and throngs of fans at every event? Is it because our sports teams are not as recognized? Or do the students here just have better things to do?
Many Northeastern University students feel that athletics are relatively unsupported here since attendance is low at almost all events. This is a Division I school with 19 varsity teams that compete in the America East Conference, with the exception of football in the Atlantic 10 Conference and men’s and women’s hockey competing in Hockey East.
With every win, Northeastern athletics are gaining recognition. The 2002-03 season was the best year overall for Northeastern athletics. Last year, Northeastern sent four teams to the NCAA playoffs and won a total of seven conference titles including football’s first ever Atlantic 10 title.
Several students, when asked about low attendance, suggested the low turnout for football games is because of the location of Parson’s Field in Brookline, MA a few miles away. Students have to take busses supplied by Northeastern to the field. “I think one [stadium] closer to campus definitely would attract more students to games,” said Maria Maldonado, a sophomore political science major. “Taking the busses to games is such a hassle. Plus, the stadium is like a high school stadium.”
One student said that she liked Boston University’s setup because fields were closer to campus making it easier to watch games.
“I think if it were closer it would help. The BU soccer field is right behind some dorms and I have noticed that a lot of people watch those games because it is easy to just stop by,” said Amanda Lowe, a sophomore journalism major.
The Huskies Homecoming football game was on October 18th at Parson’s Field. The field has a capacity of 7,000. At Homecoming, more than 6,000 were in attendance. It was a good turnout but when compared to another Division I school such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s football games, which are always filled to capacity at 80,000, Northeastern is just a small gathering.
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Talk of building a new sports complex closer to campus that would accommodate football, and possibly track and field, soccer, and field hockey, has slowly been in the works. The complex would offer more seating and easier access to games. Plans for the complex have not yet been made, as funding is a problem. President Richard Freeland commented to the NU News last year on the idea.
“There is no doubt that it would improve student life on campus,” President Freeland said. “It’s a part of what it is to be a major university in this country and part of the fun of college life is to be able to walk across campus to a game.”
Another reason students gave for not attending football games is because they are usually too early. On weekends, students want to sleep in. Later games might attract more students.
Some students just don’t know when games are, and this goes for every sport. There are not many signs around campus showing game days and times. The Huskies website, GoNU.com, will give that information, but the web address is not well known. Students suggested that putting up posters in residence halls and around campus would remind them of games.
“I don't think that the games are very well publicized. No one ever knows when they are,” said Lowe.
Several students said there is no shortage of school spirit, except when it comes to athletics. Around campus, tee shirts and sweatshirts with NU logos can be seen everywhere, which is typical for a college campus.
“Besides sporting Northeastern shirts and sweat pants, I don’t really think we have school spirit at all,” said Lowe.
One student thought the lack of school spirit was because of the size of Northeastern with more than 20,000 undergraduate students.
“We have a larger school, most of the schools this large do not have very many students who are willing to get involved with school spirit,” said Jessica Spear, a cheerleader for Northeastern.
At UW-Madison, with around 30,000 undergraduate students, the large size of the school does not detract from school spirit, but rather adds to it according to UW-Madison students.
“For hockey tickets hundreds of us camped out. While we camped out for tickets for the whole season there were two groups of people waiting for one football game. They waited three weeks outside for one Big Ten game,” said Brenna Severson, a sophomore communications major at UW-Madison. They’ve had so much school spirit, Sports Illustrated on Campus rated them the number one college sports town in America this year.
Of course, Madison, WI is much smaller than Boston. Northeastern students have many activities available that may draw attention away from campus. Urban colleges compete with off-campus culture and nightlife more so than colleges in smaller towns and cities.
“In all honesty, the school activities here are terrible so I’d much rather do other things around the city,” said Maria Canino, a sophomore criminal justice major.
Despite the big city atmosphere with plenty to do, other colleges and universities in Boston do not have a problem filling up their stadiums. Boston College has the most prominent athletic program in the city. Their football, basketball, and hockey games are nationally broadcast.
The Boston College fan is easy to spot in their distinctive yellow BC Superfan tee shirt. At basketball games the most outrageously dressed “Fans of the Game” watch courtside in Bernie and Phyl’s recliners, a promotion called “Dress to Impress.”
Boston College’s fan base was not always this renowned despite having a strong tailgating tradition at football games. In 1998, students Jeff Bridge and Chris Millette gathered support for a “Gold Rush Game” where students would wear gold and go crazy. The game, broadcasted on ESPN, paved the way for the student tradition.
Here at Northeastern, the Student Government Association distributes tee shirts hoping to bring unity to the stands but the fervor hasn’t caught on like at Boston College.
Northeastern’s other cross-town rival, Boston University, has a strong men’s basketball fan base with attendance at one game reaching 1,669 people against St. Joseph’s. Men’s hockey at BU, being nationally recognized, is also well supported. Each BU home hockey game averages just under 3,000 fans. BU no longer has a football program since cutting it in 1997 for financial reasons.
To raise attendance and spirit here, Northeastern hosts events have been held to entice more students to get out and enjoy games. One activity was Midnight Madness held at Solomon Court promoting the men’s and women’s basketball teams. The event featured contests, giveaways, a students vs. staff basketball game, and performances by Northeastern cheerleaders and singing groups.
“I attended Midnight Madness to see what it was and I was bored. Other students may have had fun but it didn’t persuade me to want to go to any basketball games, which was the whole point of it,” said Canino.
Solomon Court can hold 2,500 people. At Midnight Madness more than 1,000 students attended. It might seem as though athletic support is on the rise after all. But looking at attendance rates at men’s basketball games, it seems it isn’t so. At the first home game, an exhibition against GT Express, 298 people were present. The first official home game vs. Suffolk left 1,652 seats empty. Only 848 people attended the game.
Men’s hockey games are more popular, but seats are still left empty. Matthew’s Arena has 4,500 seats. Most of the games this year have only filled up little more than half of the arena. The most popular game was against UNH, a major rival, with 3,826 in attendance, but this number cannot differentiate between UNH and Northeastern fans.
Women’s basketball and hockey games have an even worse attendance record, which shows how unsupportive women’s sports still are. At total of 298 people came to the opening game, for women’s basketball, an exhibition against Merrimack. Other games did not even report on attendance.
Women’s hockey crowds this year have all been under 350 people. The women’s hockey team, with a record of 7-4-3, has been winning games unlike their male counterparts who have a 1-9-2 record. Yet, no one goes to watch them.
Northeastern students can easily go to hockey and basketball games, since the stadiums are on campus. Students don’t even have to worry about the expense games can concur as long as they pay for the $70 sports pass, which gives access to all home games for any sport.
“I didn’t even know I had a sports pass until a friend told me. If I knew about it earlier I probably would have went to games,” said Megan Doyle, a middler arts major.
Every student is automatically given a sports pass and billed for one unless it is waived for the year by going to the self-service portion of the myneu website.
Students at Northeastern can and should attend games to all sports, even if football games are a hassle to get to. The problem is lack of school spirit and pride. Other colleges have instilled traditions in their students and it’s about time Northeastern did the same. Before students start attending athletic events, being proud of the Northeastern community will first have to be established.
In 2002, Class Clash was created in order to start new traditions and build school spirit. The competition pits each class against each other throughout the year in different contests.
Other events such as pep rallies and festivals also help Northeastern become a community with its students, by promoting school spirit and pride. Many students agree that Northeastern needs to see a change in the amount of students who care about university activities and events.
“Northeastern is a huge university and with so many people you would think at least some people would be interested. It would be really cool if more students joined in which would lead to even more students and soon Northeastern would have thousands at every event!” said Lowe.
Northeastern athletics, most of which are continually getting better and advancing farther into playoffs, should be supported. Students should check out GoNU.com, get the schedules, and check a game out, because who knows, you make like it.