A few weeks back, when Scott Van Pelt was doing his ESPN Radio show from the Hamilton in downtown D.C., he and I got to talking about Maryland football attendance. I asked him what the school needed to do to fill seats at Byrd Stadium.
“Win,” he said then. “I mean, ultimately it’s that simple. But the bigger, more interesting question, is what do they have to do to get people to stay beyond halftime. I did an interview with a guy with The Diamondback. I said what I saw from the [season-opening] game against Florida International was the student section was packed, and that’s great. It’s the first game of the year, students should go. I get that it’s hot. I get that they were up by a ton. But the student section was empty [after halftime]. I don’t mean that as hyperbole. There were no people.
“I said eventually they’re going to need you to be there in the fourth quarter, and I’m afraid there are going to be people that don’t know sports that aren’t going to realize that the game is actually not over. Truly. I think they think when the band comes out, that that signals it’s time to leave. Because there’s a different variety of kid that goes there now. When I went to school, we were idiots, but we knew there were 60 minutes in a game. I think kids now get 1600 on their SATs and think football’s a 30-minute game or something. Maybe you give them a gentle nudge, say hey, I know how smart you guys are, I don’t know if you need a brush-up here, there’s actually four quarters in a game, that’s generally how it goes.
“I mean, look, it’s as simple as winning,” Van Pelt continued. “It’s a pro town, they’ve had two down years, and people aren’t going to come out unless they think they’re good. They’re always going to have to fight; they’re going to have to be good to get bandwagon fans, and they’re going to have to stay good to make those bandwagon fans become repeat customers.”
Well, Maryland appears to be good — or at least, not bad. The Terps are 5-1. And yet the student section was again less than packed last weekend against Virginia, as seen above. So Van Pelt addressed the topic again, this time on his nationally syndicated show.
“I’m probably gonna get in trouble back in College Park for this one, but some things need to be said,” he said on Monday. “When I was a kid, I used to go to Byrd Stadium to see Maryland football games with my dad. And one thing I always used to look forward to the most was the student section. It was packed, it was raucous. Sometimes they would chant things that I didn’t understand. Sometimes they would hold up signs that I didn’t understand. I do now. They were naughty. But the students were great. They were passionate….
“Saturday, I wanted to puke. As the Terps were fighting desperately to hang on to beat Virginia – a rival they were playing for the last time – the Cavaliers were driving into the teeth of a student section that was, I don’t know, three-quarters empty. Maybe half-empty. Whatever it was, empty seats outnumbered students….It was raining for a little while. Heavens, no, raining. I don’t know why they left, but by the end of the game, the student section is mostly empty. I don’t get it. You get four years to be young. Now, some of us took a little longer to get done, but we’re talking about six Saturdays a year. It’s a three-hour investment of your time to cheer for your team. It’s not a burden. You shouldn’t have to be bribed with hot dogs to stay in the second half. There are two halves of a freaking game. If you went to a movie, would you leave halfway through?….
“The Terps are actually doing well. They’re 5-1. Students can help create a home-field advantage. Instead, it’s like home-field indifference at the end of a home game that the team won by a point. You have the rest of your life to be in a big fat hurry, to be jaded about stuff. But when you’re young, just slow down. Enjoy it. And don’t hit me with the studying part, because even back in the day, we used to have tests and stuff too. We figured out a way. Tests aren’t new. We just found room six Saturdays a year to go to Byrd Stadium.”
Van Pelt went on to discuss flagging attendance at other major college football programs, but his critique remained. Reporters asked a few Maryland players about his comments on Tuesday.
“Yeah, you notice it,” quarterback C.J. Brown said, via my colleague Alex Prewitt. “But you try not to pay too much attention. We still think we have great fans. We have to give our credit to them that they were there this last Saturday….They were huge for us in the fourth quarter.”
“I’m not going to lie. Some of us do notice it,” nose tackle Andre Monroe said. “Being here for so long, I’ve noticed that they’re going to [leave early] regardless. They’re going to do that when we’re winning real good, they’re going to do that when we’re losing. It doesn’t matter to us. We notice it, but it doesn’t matter, because we know that’s just what they do…. It’s completely fine with us. We’re going to keep churning and keep playing. ”
Which is the only thing players can really say.
(Image via @BrendanDarr)
(As first transcribed by the Baltimore Sun. Jerks.)