First football tailgate a success, athletics still have a long way to go
I would be lying if I said I was optimistic about the success of the tailgate prior to Rice University football's season opener against the University of California at Los Angeles last Thursday. Housing and Dining enraged the student body by closing all serveries for the unpopular Sammy's Picnic and cutting the length of dinner in half. Students were forced to trek down to West Lot to grab food for a game they probably did not want to see. i figured there was no way anyone would go.
Fortunately, and much to my surprise, the tailgate was not only well-attended, but also a lot of fun. Undergraduates filled the parking lot and filed into the student section of Rice Stadium for the start of the game. It was the best-attended game (by students, at least) I remember in my three years at Rice. The Student Association, Rice Athletics and H&D combined to put together a successful tailgate.
But much of this success was lucky. The tailgate's high attendance was due in part to superb advertising by the SA, free food from Sammy's Picnic and extra excitement for the first game. These luxuries will not always be present and allowed us to overlook some of the major flaws in Rice Athletics' plan for the tailgate.
At the last minute, a confusing wristband system was introduced for acquiring food that was luckily ignored. Rice Athletics did not give varsity sports liaisons money and instead asked them to receive funding from their own residential colleges. This proved difficult, however, because in the second week of school, college governments had not yet finalized their annual budgets. Instead, the largely unprepared VSL program was bailed out by the picnic's free food and beer provided by generous individuals.
Even with this success, it is clear that Rice Athletics and the rest of the university still have a long way to go to improve attendance at sporting events. The first step is to adequately fund the VSLs. Athletics finally realized that organizing a tailgate by college would improve willingness of students to participate, but the residential colleges have very tight budgets. They may not be able to sufficiently fund a half-dozen tailgates each year. If free food, water and beer are not available, attendance will drop. Athletics should bear the costs if the residential colleges cannot afford to do so.
The rest of Rice must also do its part in supporting athletics. It can start by doing a better job of scheduling events around games. The season opener was forced to compete with the Rice Research Fair, an event that had the potential to draw many away from the game. For the rest of the season, football has to compete with another league: powderpuff. This year, powderpuff games are scheduled not only on the same day, but also at the same time as home football games. It is unlikely the average Rice student will attend five hours of football on a given day. If they are forced to choose, students will probably go to the powderpuff game and support the students with whom they more frequently interact. It is unacceptable for Rice Athletics to have to compete with another sports league at the university. While varsity sports have absolutely no flexibility in scheduling, powderpuff, like many other events across campus, does.
In sports other than football, where home games are more frequent, the VSLs must be careful about when they plan major tailgates and giveaways. Last year, there was only one tailgate for a home baseball game, and it was on the same day as the KTRU Outdoor Show. There is no need for events as large as these to compete with one another. A little more research from Rice Athletics would have allowed it to reschedule the tailgate so both events could be more successful.
Rice Athletics and the rest of the university still have a lot of work to improve attendance at sporting events. But no one is more to blame than the student body itself, whose apathy shines through the most when it comes to athletics. Despite high attendance at the season opener, most of the student section had emptied out by halftime in a game that was still competitive. Some reasons I heard were that people had to get ready for Willy's Pub, were tired or had work to do.
True, a Thursday game presents a few additional challenges that do not exist on weekends. Even so, we need to do more to support our student athletes. They work too hard and represent too large a portion of our student body to be ignored. They are fellow Duncaroos, Sidizens and Bakerites. They are our classmates, our Orientation Week siblings and our friends. Rice athletes deserve our support.
Justin Winikoff is a Duncan College junior.
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