College Basketball: The Sixth Man

Todd ParmeleeSenior Analyst IFebruary 25, 2008

College basketball is all about atmosphere. The unique cheers and fight songs from the pep band and student section make almost any college game exciting to watch. Add some face paint and a little bit of taunting, and these places become intimidating places for opposing teams to play.

Duke has the ‘Cameron Crazies’ who jump in place and cheer for an entire game. The Florida Gators have their 'Gator Chomp.' For Syracuse and their 30,000-plus fans at the Carrier Dome, well, they have strength in numbers.

Recently, when UConn played Depaul before 14,858 at the XL Center (formerly known as the Hartford Civic Center) on Tuesday, Feb. 19, the crowd was out of the game. The players could have been replaced by a men’s league team playing in front of empty seats at a local gym. It was so bad for the first 30 minutes that you could hear the sneakers squeaking on the hardwood floor.

The main reason for the un-enthused crowd is that the UConn campus is actually located a 40-minute drive away in Storrs, Conn. Therefore, on a Tuesday night, when classes are in session, many UConn students did not attend the game. It showed. Roughly, one-third of the student section was missing. There was no energy in the crowd, and the UConn players responded by playing unenergetic basketball for 30 minutes.

Off-campus venues, like the XL Center, typically have larger seating capacities, but the type of fan attending the game is much different. UConn plays 17 home games this year and nine out of those 17 are at the XL Center. The XL Center holds 16,294 fans, while Gampel Pavilion’s capacity is 10,167. It makes total financial and logistical sense to have a majority of the games at the XL Center, because not only does it have more seats, it is also easier to get to for families.

Gampel Pavilion, on the other hand, is located 20 minutes off the highway, essentially in the middle of nowhere. It may have 6,127 fewer seats, but the crowd, fueled by the energy of a large student section, is much more involved in the game. Basketball-wise it makes total sense to have all the games at Gampel because of the decisive advantage the fans give the team. Ask any fan where they would rather watch a game, and I am sure most will say, ‘Gampel.’ There is no bad seat in Gampel. Sit the furthest away from the court in any section and you still have a good seat. Your nose will not be bleeding, but your ears may be ringing from the cheers of the crowd.

After UConn played Notre Dame at the Gampel Pavilion, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey and his players commented on how difficult it was to play at an on-campus facility, like Gampel. Brey knows how difficult it is because his team has rattled off 36 straight wins at their own on-campus venue, the Joyce Center, located in South Bend, Ind. The problem was it was the first time since 1996 that the Irish had played there.

Every college program has its own unique fan base. The UConn student section has one fan clad in just his skivvies with half his body painted white and the other half painted blue. Then, there is the student that wears a toilet bowl. Yes, he wears a toilet bowl. I'm not sure what the toilet bowl represents or why it is worn, but I will say it is different.

Even the ‘everyfan’ gets into the game as well. In the crowd at all UConn games is a middle-aged heavy-set man. He gets the crowd going by spelling out “U-C-O-N-N” with his arms. The crowd responds in unison by announcing each letter then chanting “UCONN, UCONN.”

Players respond to the enthusiasm of the crowd, and it makes them play with more energy and intensity. Intensity leads to them getting more steals, better defense and, more importantly, victories. Crowds not only respond to a thunderous dunk, but also to the player who dives on the floor for the loose ball. Plays like these can change the momentum of the crowd and the game.

What college do you think has the best student section? What is unique about its fans?