Where have all the good fans gone?

By By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

Five years is all the time a typical student gets at the U. Five years for students to get their fill of late-night study sessions, Friday night keggers that last until Monday, and five-page, double-spaced essays with one-inch margins on each side. Five years is all the time typical U students get to paint themselves red, scream at referees and show their school spirit before they find a mate, a nine-to-five job and two kids under the age of 2.

It is hardly a secret that the Mighty Utah Student Section, or MUSS, makes U football games seem more like a rock concert than a sporting event. It is probably easier to hear a friend say two words at a Metallica concert than it is at a football game. It is not uncommon for the MUSS to hoist a couple U coeds onto a bed of hands and let those girls ride the wave of the MUSS.

Although the men’s basketball games don’t have crowd-surfing coeds and cannons blasting after every score, the games still get a strong backing from U students. Even the gymnastics squad enjoys a rambunctious fan base that only a section of students could provide. The overwhelming opinion of students and MUSS members is that their collective presence not only adds an electric environment to the games, but also inspires the football team to play harder and better.

This raises the question: Why don’t the other 12 sports programs at the U enjoy this same support?

“(It’s) somewhat (because) of American culture-the popular sports get all the hype. You don’t really see a lot of people at the soccer games, but I love watching the women’s soccer games; they’re very good,” said Jake Cefalo, a sophomore in mining engineering.

Cefalo is a member of the MUSS and one of the rare U students who regularly attends a Ute volleyball or soccer game.

Students, both MUSS members and non-members, had varying opinions on lack of support for sports such as volleyball, soccer, swimming, baseball and women’s basketball.

“I think that the perception is that the big sports are football and basketball. Utah is a basketball state with the Jazz and everything,” said mechanical engineering junior Danny Culpepper.

There is no doubt that basketball and football are two of the most popular sports in the United States, but this explanation does not explain why a sport like baseball gets essentially no student support.

Some students made the argument that the big three-football, men’s basketball and gymnastics-have been the most successful programs at the U. There may be some substance to this observation, but this doesn’t explain why the women’s basketball team hardly saw an influx in student support when, as the team made a run into the Elite Eight and had two of its players, Kim Smith and Shona Thorburn, drafted into the WNBA.

Some students and MUSS members flat out admitted they have absolutely no interest in volleyball or soccer and some of these same students divulged that the biggest reasons they went to football games was for the social atmosphere surrounding the games.

The most common reason students and MUSS members offered for the overall lack of student support in sports other than the big three was knowledge of when and where games were taking place.

Most of these students also pointed out that they thought the people in charge of the MUSS could do a better job at informing students when every sporting event on campus was taking place.

MUSS president and senior PRT/sports management major Kevin Stocker explained that promoting athletic events is not the purpose of the MUSS.

“It’s not really our responsibility to go create the fan base. We’re here to embrace the fan base,” Stocker said. “The MUSS kind of creates the atmosphere of the fan base when it comes.”

Stocker noted that MUSS members, such as Cefalo, have been trying to organize a MUSS section at volleyball games.

Cefalo pointed out that the students from the team down south do a better job of supporting their athletics than students at the U do.

“I’ve gone to BYU/U soccer game four different times, and you get a lot of fans there?The whole BYU attitude is to really support all the sports,” Cefalo said. “I think it would really help the morale of the team to see that many (Ute) fans supporting them.”

The athletics department itself is doing all that it can to support every program at the U. Obviously, football and basketball get the most exposure because they bring in the most revenue. The bulk of the revenue they bring in is from the TV contracts, while gymnastics is able to chip in with its select few televised events. The athletics department has an extremely informative Web site, www.utahutes.com, which not only lists every program, but also has team and player bios and a list of upcoming events for every U athletic program.

Aside from that, Ute fans can try to look at local newspapers-The Chronicle, The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret Morning News-for up-to-date scheduling information.

The reality for the other 12 athletic programs is that they are going to have to depend on students like Cefalo and Joseph Novak-a sophomore in Middle Eastern studies-to help support athletics programs outside of the big three. Unlike the chicken vs. the egg conundrum, enthusiasm and excitement for sports such as baseball, swimming, volleyball and soccer are going to hatch with the efforts of students.

“It’s good, clean fun, and it’s free to get in. It’s school pride. You can get into it pretty good,” Novak said regarding the soccer and volleyball games.

Programs like the No. 24 volleyball team and the No. 12 soccer team will continue to play their seasons in front of parents and the student athletes from other U programs, whether students show up or not. However, if these quality programs were able to get a glimpse of the support the big three have received from students are filled with school spirit, it would likely help the balls spike a little harder and the goals snap a little harder.