No, this isn’t an opinion about Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, but it does borrow from its ideas of defining greatness. Perhaps the biggest take-away from the famous 1949 play is understanding the misconceptions of ourselves and how we should define greatness. Nevertheless, we’re talking about the “sixth man” on the basketball court: the crowd.
What defines a great crowd? Is it the attendance number or maybe the noise level? Could it be the thrill of sitting next to your buddies and yelling until your larynx goes limp or could it be just waving your hands in the air when the wave comes to your side of the arena? It’s a question worth considering as Mercer looks to redefine and rebrand athletics after the announcement of football taking centerstage beginning in September of 2013.
I’ve considered the title for this column for some time. Attendance is way up by all accounts to our men’s basketball games, the biggest money sport at Mercer, yet our student section wanes in support of the team. A small yet energetic group of rowdy fans known as “Hoffman’s Hooligans” command the first two rows of the section for most games, yet many times they seemed to be outnumbered by the apathetic un-enthusiasm of the crowd that hangs in the air like a thick fog after a hard rain.
Sports Illustrated recently released a study on the myths and proven reasons behind why home teams seem to win more often than visiting teams in nearly all sports. In summary, it boils down to the fact that the officials, not the crowd, are the largest influencers in the outcome of a game. The study also went on to reflect that psychology behind this phenomenon in that officials conform their calls to the social pressure created by the home crowd (i.e. using crowd noise to help them resolve uncertainties in making a call).
The point is that the home crowd can have an enormous effect, albeit in small ways, on the outcome of a game. That leads us to the question of introspection: why does our student body seem so lackadaisical in supporting even our biggest sports?
As of print time, the men’s team averages 2,086 people over the course of the 13 home games they played this season. Undoubtedly, that’s almost a 100 percent increase from four years ago and about a 40 percent increase from two seasons ago. However, more and more of the spectators are Maconites, not students.
It doesn’t seem to be a matter of wins and losses. The men’s basketball team seems to be matching last year’s record at this point in the season. We did lose popular players and a polarizing one in James Florence — fans either loved the way he played or couldn’t wait to get rid of him. It’s not a matter of promotions either, as Bass Pro Shops, Chick-fil-A, and a handful of other businesses have sponsored games this season.
I believe it’s the message that we hear from those who wish to be great (like Willy, the salesman in Death of a Salesman) but are unfortunately looking through life with jaded lenses. To put it bluntly, cheering a team on is not cool at Mercer. Supporting something other than yourself is not cool at Mercer. Those living under King David’s reign chastised him for dancing. We chastise others with our thoughts and eyes when we cheer exuberantly at games.
There are two people that go to Mercer: givers and takers. Unfortunately, there are simply too many “takers” in the stands on any given night. They’re the ones who ask, “What can I get from the game?” and, “What’s in it for me?” They’re the ones who come to the game to look cool in their designer jeans and Patagonia jackets, hoping to impress. Mercer shouldn’t have to offer incentives and free T-shirts to encourage you to come to an event. In addition, what an embarrassment to the men’s and women’s soccer programs and volleyball programs when QuadWorks required students to attend at least three of six events in the fall to get a priority homecoming ticket. Students showed up to sign in, only to leave after five minutes. That’s embarrassing and if you’re a taker — shame on you!
No, we cannot be involved in all campus activities, but for the ones we are involved in, shouldn’t we take them and leave them better than we found them? Why is Duke such an imposing place to play? Students took it upon themselves to paint up and jump up and down for 40 minutes in order to pysch out other teams.
Hoffman, the men’s basketball team, and the rest of the athletic teams are doing what they can to put the best product on the field/court. Yes, winning sells tickets and goes a long way, but many Mercerians need to wake up and smell the coffee — life is not just about “Being the Bear,” adding as many activities and positions to the bottom of your e-mail signature as possible and looking out for #1 all the time. It’s not about being apathetic and lukewarm in the 1,426 things that you do around campus.
That’s my challenge to the student body. It’s almost March and it’s put-up-or-shut-up time. If you want to waste oxygen in the UC Arena and sit in an orange fold-out only to appear mildly interested in the happenings on the court and wondering how you benefit from coming to the game, don’t come. For those who want to cheer and cheer loudly to be the sixth man for the team — true Mercerians — I’ll see you at the game!