THE SANTA CLARA
April 2, 2014
Every spring, the top 68 men’s college basketball teams compete in the NCAA tournament, commonly referred to as “March Madness.” While the top 68 women’s teams also compete in a similar tournament, one that is criminally underappreciated, the men’s competition is widely considered to be the most thrilling and diverse playoff system in all of sports.
How could it not be? Buzzer beaters, Cinderella stories and 68 vastly different styles of basketball firmly entrench the “Big Dance” in the halls of sports lore. Some schools, like the University of Kentucky, use ferocious defense and more McDonald’s All-Americans than all but one NBA team to protect their undefeated record. Others, like Gonzaga University, use a fast-paced and high-scoring offense to wipe the floor with opposing defenses. Still others, like Michigan State University, seemingly overcome all odds under the watchful eye of a genius head coach.
Yet, for all their differences, every one of the 68 teams etched on March Madness brackets across America have two very significant things in common. Each school has an excellent basketball team and a fiercely loyal and spirited fan base. Santa Clara has neither.
Our basketball team sucks. And it’s our fault.
Have Some Pride
Student support of athletics is the clearest gauge of school pride. Tailgates, overwhelmingly displayed school colors on game days and time-honored sports traditions epitomize a student body’s love for its university.
When Florida State University wins away games, fans steal sod from the opposing team’s field and bury it in a cemetery. Before every home game, over 20,000 Texas A&M University students practice shouting cheers at the top of their lungs in the middle of the night. Wake Forest University and Auburn University students throw toilet paper all over their schools after every win.
At our university, the only people wearing Santa Clara gear are athletes and first-quarter freshmen who don’t know any better. The majority of students only pay attention to Santa Clara sports long enough to quickly and mindlessly move unread “This Week in Bronco Sports” emails to their trash.
How many players on the basketball team can you name off the top of your head? Who is our starting center?
In the second round of the NCAA tournament, thousands of University of California, at Los Angeles fans crossed the country and travelled 2,100 miles to Louisville, Kentucky to cheer for their team. We won’t even cross campus to watch ours.
That is because, aside from Senior Night and the Gonzaga game, Santa Clara students avoid our main sports teams like the plague. Our women’s basketball team took the court this year with more players on their bench than student fans in the stands who weren’t there for pep band or as part of another team. Support for our men’s basketball team wasn’t much better.
If student attendance at sporting events is the true measure of school pride, then roughly 50 of us can truthfully say we are proud to be Broncos.
Basketball is Santa Clara’s main sport. Sure, our rugby and soccer teams frequently dominate and garner attention, but their coaches aren’t the highest paid staff members on our campus. Brandi Chastain forever changed the face of women’s sports by drilling that kick and tearing off her jersey in the World Cup, but when asked to list Santa Clara’s most famous sports figure, we answer Steve Nash 99 times out of 100.
Despite that, Santa Clara does not have a good basketball team and hasn’t in decades.
Many will quickly lay the blame for the consistent lackluster play and “we’ll be better next year” sentiment on Coach Kerry Keating, the embattled men’s basketball coach. Keating, who two years ago signed a lucrative contract extension that likely rests in the half-a-million-dollar-per-year range, is not a spectacular coach. He is not a Tom Izzo of Michigan State, a Mike Krzyzewski of Duke University or even a Mark Few of Gonzaga. But we can not fully blame him for our lack of success on the basketball court.
We, the student body, are at fault. We do not support our sports teams and that is why they are consistently mediocre.
Anyone trying to counter that statement with the pathetic bandwagon claim that they would support our teams if they were even moderately above average, clearly doesn’t understand sports.
There is a reason that the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL lost a fifth round draft pick as punishment for pumping artificial crowd noise into their stadium during home games. It’s the same reason that the Seattle Seahawks, with their vaunted and painfully obnoxious 12th Man, enjoy such a pronounced homefield advantage.
Having a stadium or arena packed with fans emphatically screaming their support for the home team, harassing opposing players, and jeering and booing every close call the referees make, leads to better performance on the court, which leads to more fans.
It’s a classic chicken and egg paradox, but unless some of us secretly shoot 60 percent from the three-point line and can throw down reverse windmill dunks with ease and haven’t tried out for the team yet, there is only one part of that equation that the general student body can control.
Look at last year’s Gonzaga game when the men’s basketball team came within two points of knocking off a markedly superior team in front of a full gymnasium. Or this year, when the 2nd-in-the-nation Bulldogs couldn’t pull away from the Broncos and our roaring fans until late in the first half.
Conversely, look at the Bronco’s double-digit loss to the 13-16 Cal Poly Mustangs or when we let the 12-17 Pacific Tigers shoot 30 free throws in a game that was even more lopsided than the 64-57 final score would suggest. Both games were at home and could have been easy Bronco wins if we had packed the gymnasium and made life miserable for the other teams.
When our home games are basically away games, we have a problem. In fact, it’s worse than that. According to The New York Times, opponents’ free throw percentage relative to home games at Santa Clara increased by 2.5 percent. Opposing teams play better when they come into Leavey Center than they do on their own home courts, at least at the usually high-pressured free throw line.
Alternatively, Arizona State boasts a -8.7 percent differential. Why? Twerking farm animals and French-kissing unicorns, that’s why. A split-second before an opponent attempts a free throw in the Sun Devils’ gymnasium, a curtain behind the basket opens to reveal outrageously distracting students. Its easier to concentrate and make a crucial shot in an empty gym than it is while a fat guy in a diaper rubs his hairy chest seductively directly in front of you.
More Than Just Free Throws
The negative effects of such abysmal support of our basketball teams exist off the court as well.
In the past nine years, Santa Clara has signed a grand total of zero of ESPN’s Top 100 high school basketball players. Why would any of them choose to come play for a school where the majority of the student body would rather sit through root canal surgery before sitting through their school’s basketball games?
At schools like the University of California, at Berkeley where game days may as well be national holidays, thousands of fans come from outside the school to watch the games. As the jubilant student body raucously parties in the street at the crack of dawn, four-year-old kids play tag, weaving through the sea of drunken fans. Senior citizens walk over a mile from the BART station to watch a school, that they went to 60 years earlier, play a relatively meaningless game. Berkeley may have a larger student body than us, and thus more fans, but we should at least be able to fill more than a few dozen seats in the gym.
At Santa Clara, instead of coming to celebrate our athletic achievements and joining us in showing pride for our school, our neighbors try to pass ordinances to ban groups of students from living together. While walking to school on any given day, we probably pass more bumper stickers for East Coast schools than our own. The current student body doesn’t care about its sports teams, so why should former students and neighbors?
The solution to this problem is painfully simple. Go to Santa Clara games. They’re a lot of fun, especially when we are winning, which would happen more often if more fans went.
I for one, am tired of filling out my March Madness bracket and having to predict that teams other than Santa Clara will win the championship. I’m sure our basketball team is equally tired of other teams playing better in our gym than in their own because we can’t gather up more than a few dozen students to watch a game.
Next year’s freshman class will have the dubious honor of not being born the last time Santa Clara played in the NCAA tournament. Why don’t we pack the school gym and try to change that by showing some pride in our school’s sports teams for a change?
Thomas Curran-Levett is a junior political science major and the editor of the Opinion section.