Johnson is a junior marketing and advertising double major and can be contacted at email@example.com
On the night before the Drake vs. Iowa State basketball games, I was sitting on my couch watching ESPN’s College Hoops Tip-Off marathon. It was everything a college basketball fan could ask for: 24 hours of basketball, from mid-major schools like Northern Iowa and Morehead State to national powers like Kansas and Kentucky.
As I sat watching a game between Gonzaga and Washington State, I absolutely fell in love with Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center. It wasn’t the biggest (in fact, it has fewer seats than the Knapp Center) or nicest arena I’ve seen, but it was leaps and bounds ahead of hundreds of other programs for one reason alone: the student section.
What looked like a third of the stadium was taken up by rowdy students, all wearing the same shirt, jumping in unison while they all chanted and willed their team to victory. Now, one must realize this isn’t a huge rivalry in college basketball, and it probably isn’t even a huge game for Gonzaga, but the student section treated it like a conference championship.
I believe that atmospheres like those at the McCarthey Athletic Center or Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium are what make college basketball so special. The smaller, intimate settings of these home courts put the students right on top of the action and encourage them to get loud and proud for their teams. What I would love is for the Knapp Center to become the next basketball stadium on par with these two venues. Before you say that it sounds crazy or impossible, let me attempt to convince you otherwise.
First, let’s look at the sizes of the schools and their venues. Both Gonzaga and Duke, although both very successful programs at the Division I level, share a number of commonalities with the Bulldogs of Drake University. All three schools are small private schools with strong academic reputations. Duke only has 6,504 undergraduate students while Gonzaga has 4,729, so both schools are a lot closer to Drake than they are to large state schools. Also, the stadiums of each school are similar in size. Gonzaga’s MAC holds about 6,000 while Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium holds about 9,000. The Knapp Center falls somewhere in the middle with about 7,000 seats. I believe it would be even easier to fill our student section though, as our students only have to occupy both sections behind the baskets (that’s right, technically both sides are student sections, not just the one by the visiting bench) instead of Gonzaga and Duke’s layout of taking over the sides.
Next, let’s take into account that this has been accomplished before, and within the last four years even.
Yes, the magical 2007-08 season, when Adam Emmenecker (the man, not the delicious Jethro’s monstrosity) led the Bulldogs to a 28-5 season and a fifth seed in the NCAA tournament. After Drake beat Iowa State and Iowa that year, the Knapp Center started to sell out on a consistent basis. I was talking to one of my friends who graduated last year, and he said students had to wait outside for two hours prior to the game just to get a spot in the student section, but that every moment out in the cold was worth it once the game started and the crowd came alive. Now, I’m not saying that this year’s Bulldogs are going to go on the same incredible run as that historic team (although I’m not ruling out the possibility), but that doesn’t mean we can’t pack the student section for each game and bring that same atmosphere to the Knapp Center.
Third, the players feed off the energy of the crowd. It’s called a home court advantage for a reason, and we can transform the Knapp Center into one of the toughest places to play in the Missouri Valley Conference if we can emulate Gonzaga or Duke. I’ve been watching the “Five Questions” segments on GoDrakeBulldogs.com, and whenever they talk with the men’s basketball players, each one of them talks about how a packed Knapp Center really pumps them up during the games. You can tell after games that our players really do appreciate it, too. After last Tuesday’s game, the players came over to show their gratitude and were mobbed by a small contingent of students (myself included). The same thing happened at the end of last year’s win over Northern Iowa at home. We aren’t some big BCS school where the players are treated like gods. This is Drake, and the players on the court are the same ones that sit next to you in class, and you have no idea how much they appreciate your support.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, it is just plain fun to be in an excited student section. The most recent example of this happened at the Drake vs. Iowa State game. For those of you who went, how fun was that second half down the stretch? We were all on our feet, cheering, chanting and yelling “Hide your laptop” at Royce White when he was at the free-throw line. That’s what Division I athletics is supposed to be like, and it felt great, didn’t it?
But that also brings up an important point that most of you probably noticed; it isn’t enough to just be there. You have to really invest yourself in the game if you want to have fun. When you are sitting down and watching the game politely, there is a real disconnection, not just between you and the game but also between you and the other fans. So I implore you to go to Drake basketball games, both men and women’s. When everyone is on their feet and being loud, we are one big group celebrating and suffering together out there. And don’t worry about being embarrassed as you yell at the opposing team. If we are all doing it, you won’t look weird at all.
I can’t wait to be yelling alongside you at the Bulldogs’ next game.