A Broken Crutch Part I: Winning makes a difference
This is Part One of a three-part series about student apathy toward SU athletics.
“This is the loudest I have ever heard this place.”
“I know, but isn’t this awesome? I can feel the ground shaking”
Two alumni stood on the sideline of Seth Grove Stadium as the Bloomsburg University football team took on Shippensburg University in a duel for the PSAC East title on Oct. 27. More than 6,000 fans bore down behind them, weathered by the emotional drain of an instant classic — 6,000 fans who painted the sky in a harmonious blast of cheers as Bryan Barley snagged in the game-winning catch, vaulting SU to the title.
Cheers at Seth Grove Stadium reverberated across campus, causing tremors from McLean Hall all the way to Kriner Hall. The celebration had begun.
The game on that fateful fall day was a culmination of excitement and support that had been building for weeks.
For years football at SU has been the cash cow for the university. Football is regarded as the No. 1 sport at SU based on a survey of 85 students conducted by The Slate Sports Department. Of course, a small sample size can skew numbers, but when 80 percent of students favor football over any other fall sports, the indication is strong that this sport receives the strongest support system from SU’s peers.
Raking in more than 10,000 people a year since 2008, fan and student support has driven in a ton of revenue from ticket and concession sales. But through the last five years, the number of students and the community going to these games have roller-coasted up and down.
The reason why? Winning cures everything.
Over the past five years, the Raider football team has had an average attendance of 1,929 in 2008; 4,734 in 2009; 2,988 in 2010; 2,043 in 2011; and 4,811 this year. In the two highest drawing years, the SU football team boasted records of 9–3 and 11–2 respectively. Support has been high when the Raiders win and Seth Grove Stadium can be electric when it is filled.
“I always say that we have the best game atmosphere in the league,” Coach Mark Maciejewski said in a previous interview. “I think we have a good following here, not only from the university but from the local community as well.”
In 2012, the atmosphere was astounding.
Picked to finish fourth in the PSAC East, the Raider football team was coming into a year that held promise — it was marked as the ultimate proving ground for the success that Maciejewski and quarterback Zach Zulli could have.
And for good reason.
The Raiders showed extreme promise in Maciejewski’s first season under the helm, raking in seven wins. Their offense resembled a Ford Mustang rather than the horse and buggy offense that Coach Rocky Rees used to run. They were fresh, exciting and enjoyable to watch.
As the wins started piling up against quality teams such as Shepherd University, Slippery Rock University and East Stroudsburg University, the amount of support that the team raked in rivaled that of 2009. This team was not like teams of the past. It was a breath of fresh air into the SU community and attendance skyrocketed.
Students who stayed in on Saturdays to recuperate from a Friday night out, or from a stressful school week, awoke from their slumbers and came in droves to Seth Grove to see their team win. The 2012 Raider football team was special, and the support that it received from the community was top notch.
There were 33,680 fans who entered the gates at Seth Grove Stadium in 2012, an increase of 23,000 from the year before. Winning brought support and support reciprocated by building one of the loudest and most intimidating venues in the PSAC.
Winning spiked the attendance of the fledgling student section, The Red Sea — a student group that aims at representing all of the athletic programs at SU
“It [fan support] was amazing,” Zulli said. ”I interacted with a lot of them and they’re all awesome people. I love them all and thank you to all of the supporters.”
With a proven winner heading into the 2013 season, the student and community support is poised to leave the alumni and sideline spectators asking; “Is this the loudest Seth Grove has ever been?”