Football games can be a massive part of the college experience. Students get to represent their school and be prideful in where they attend. There is a culture built around college football programs that transcend the team’s record, the stadium and the location of the school. For many universities, big and small, this is the case with their football team and culture.
However, I’ve encountered many Lehigh students who believe that’s not the case with our football program. Lehigh students seem to be disappointed with the football culture, or lack thereof.
“Lehigh isn’t a big-time football school in the SEC, but there isn’t much student attendance or excitement about the games,” Scott Skripko, ’17, said. “There’s definitely a different atmosphere with playing with nobody there and playing with a packed house.”
One main concern related to our football culture is the lack of attendance at home games.
Why aren’t students showing up and staying at our home football games? This is I question I’ve heard a lot from both students and members of the football team. Last year, average attendance at home games was 6,250 people and out of a stadium capacity of 16,000. In response to this question, some people say they choose not to attend because there aren’t any night games, they don’t serve beer inside, the stadium isn’t on Lehigh’s main campus, and people don’t even wear Lehigh gear.
I believe many of these excuses are reasonable. If Lehigh sold beer in its stadium — which isn’t uncommon at some other schools around the nation — more people might attend. According to an ESPN article from 2014, University of North Texas, Southern Methodist University and Troy University began to sell beer to the general public in stadiums. At that point, there were 21 campus stadiums that sold beer to legal-age fans.
At University of Louisiana-Monroe, they began selling beer in their football stadium in 2013. They also saw a 34.1 percent increase in attendance from 2009-2013, but it’s unsure whether there’s a direct relationship between the two.
But we must consider issues that police and university officials would have to deal with, such as drunken students and arrests, if alcohol were to be brought into the equation. However, according to the ESPN article, many of the first schools to sell beer at their stadiums reported that there was no increase in poor behavior.
What about putting lights up at the football stadium? It’s possible that hosting night games would boost attendance, but why would the university invest in lights if there is no guarantee it would do so?
Many big-name schools in the Power 5 conferences have lights, yet still experience declining attendance, both among students and overall. The football stadium at University of Michigan added permanent lights in September 2010, and the project cost $1.8 million.
The most common solution I’ve heard to our attendance problem is to move the football stadium to Asa Packer campus. This idea is also the most impractical. Where do you plan to put in a football stadium on the main side of campus? This idea has no actual backing because there is simply no place to put a football stadium on lower campus.
Some of the ideas mentioned and brought forth by Lehigh students are valid and could work. However, many of the situations are hypothetical and have potential drawbacks.
There is one very simple thing that all students at Lehigh can do to make the overall football experience and culture better: show up. It is free for students to attend games, and the impact one student can make by attending a game is profound.
Next time you hear someone say that football games aren’t fun, that no one shows up, or that our football team can’t win, ask them if they actually go to the games. They might reply that they don’t, because they “aren’t fun.” But what if you decided to go, and someone else followed your lead? There would be more Lehigh fans there and the games would be fun.
Think about the Lehigh-Lafayette game at Yankee Stadium and Lehigh versus Bucknell University at home in 2014. Same year, same Lehigh team, same people. Yes, the Yankee Stadium does make the football game more exciting, but the Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry is always going to be a big game.
However, why was Lehigh-Lafayette really more fun than Lehigh versus Bucknell and all the rest of the games combined? Because everyone attended the game. The attendance for Lehigh versus Lafayette was 48,256 compared to a disappointing showing of 4,984 for the Bucknell game.
The idea of one person showing up to a football game and influencing everyone to attend is simple, but powerful.
The more people who attend the games, the more fun they will be. In my mind, there is no question about it. The community is stronger, and everyone’s happy, cheering for our team. Everyone is there. Imagine the potential if you and others made the conscious decision to attend not just Lehigh-Lafayette, but to attend home games, and it had a ripple effect.
Before you know it, we would fill the stadium. The community would be stronger, and the football team would have a better chance of winning. Everyone would have more fun. Just because you showed up.