On a more-beautiful-than-it-should-be fall day at Alumni Field, there was almost a moment. As we gathered around the corner of the soccer pitch, crowded as closely to the action as we could get, the anticipation in the JBU crowd was palpable.
There’s nothing quite like a crowd of fans being intentionally silent. We waited to explode, to rush on the field and to celebrate an unlikely conference championship for the men’s soccer team. Then the letdown came. When the Eagles missed their last penalty kick giving Oklahoma Baptist the victory, they lost a game that it felt like the Eagles were meant to win. The moment never came.
As the fans came on the field to sing a Doxology for a great season, I realized something. In waiting for that elusive moment of triumph there was a moment in and of itself. A moment of unity. A capacity crowd all connected by one desire, one school. That’s what college sports is all about. Unfortunately, we don’t get much of that here on campus. And that’s a shame.
The SAC championship game was never supposed to be at Alumni Field. All the top four seeds in the conference were upset, and fifth-seeded John Brown got to host the SAC championship game against eigth-seeded OBU, the lowest seeded team to make the tournament.
It was the rare event game on campus, a game so heavily advertised and promoted on short notice that many students feel they have to go. They feel duty bound by their role as a part of the campus culture to attend. That’s how most colleges operate and it’s how we need to operate more often.
These event games do pretty well attendance-wise. The TP Game, the volleyball team’s first home game, live streams of games in Walker and this playoff home game all get (or got) great attendance. There’s no problem there.
The problem is regular season games. All of our fall sports teams had successful seasons and yet we sometimes struggle to fill the seats at games, no matter the sport. It’s not the Thursday afternoon game that I don’t understand not getting turnout. It’s the matchup against the number one team in the country on a Saturday afternoon (a game our men’s basketball team played, and won, last season) that only fills little over half of Bill George Arena that I don’t understand.
We legitimately have great teams across the board here. Big conference games on the weekend should be no-brainer big events. They should be packed every time.
I think that the problem isn’t the fans, though. Those fans who turn out are great. They show passion, energy and ingenuity. The issue, I think, is the culture at JBU. I think a lot of students on campus just straight up don’t ‘get’ sports.
I have heard, directly and indirectly, stories of students murmuring about athletes with scholarships on campus and asking why ‘they’ are even here.
I have heard it said that athletes perform at the same level no matter if a crowd shows up or not. Anyone who has ever played sports at any level anywhere from backyard whiffle-ball to high school football knows that’s not true.
As for scholarships, to remark that we shouldn’t give out scholarships for athletes is insensitive and ignorant to the great talent God has given them. We all have talents, and if we can get scholarships to develop those talents, that’s a blessing, not a nuisance. I especially don’t understand that sentiment since our athletes are so considerate and approachable.
Especially compared with some big state schools where student-athletes are treated as “gods” and form an upper-level social elite, John Brown’s athletes are not nearly as worthy of complaints, especially when the complaint is their simple presence.
JBU Athletes are a great part of the campus’ culture and should be celebrated and supported. For those who are doing so, great job. For those people who don’t even have sports on their radar, get to the games, support the teams. Support the athletes and support the school. You won’t be here forever, so enjoy it while you can. Cherish and be a part of the crazy kind of community that only sports fandom can create.
At JBU, we have our moments. Let’s make them a weekly thing.