There’s a common adage used to welcome new Villanova students to campus: “If you’re not a basketball fan, you are one now.” This association may seem odd to those outside the University, but spend just one minute in the Pavilion watching the defending National Champions play and you will understand the significance that our Men’s Basketball team holds in our community. Last year’s March Madness victory has only amplified the already strong tradition and history that is entrenched in our storied program. Jay Wright and his fourteen-man squad are the glue that binds students, faculty, alumni and parents together as part of the “Nova Nation.”
If there is a shortcoming about our school’s rise to basketball stardom, it is that the other sports teams around campus have largely been overshadowed. The discretion between the different sports is most evident when considering game-day attendance. While a Men’s Basketball ticket is a hot commodity, fan presence at other sports games is lackluster at best. This problem doesn’t stem from poor performances on the part of our teams, nor can it be attributed to low-stakes matchups.
For example, a November football game between Villanova and eventual National Champion James Madison University was a big late-season showdown that would essentially guarantee the winner the conference championship. Villanova Stadium, capable of seating up to 12,500 people, drew a dismal crowd of 6,109. Poor attendance would plague the team throughout the season, and despite finishing second in their conference and 13 in the nation, the team just couldn’t get fans out to their games, making it ranked the lowest in the Colonial Athletic Association in terms of filling stadium capacity. Lack of community interest is not restricted to football, as soccer, track and field and lacrosse, among others, have also failed to fill stands despite winning seasons and playoff appearances.
Many may wonder that, if Men’s Basketball is the only sport able to consistently attract the interest of students and alumni, how Villanova has been able to fund its other, less popular programs.
“Basketball is the only thing that keeps our sports programs afloat. They virtually pay for all other sports at this university,” University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A, Ph.D. stated, addressing this issue during Parent’s Weekend last semester.
While the recent success of our men’s basketball program has afforded us the luxury of not having to worry about low attendance figures, it is important to develop a more broad, sustainable funding plan for our athletics program. This starts with the most crucial feature in the economics of sports: the fans. Villanova must create an incentive for students to come and see the games in order to give the smaller teams on campus more financial and physical support as they go out and represent our university. The Athletics Department recently experimented with this idea by offering students extra lottery points in drawings for Men’s Basketball games by attending a recent matchup between our women’s team and La Salle University. The same concept can and should be applied to other sporting events, along with other enticements like merchandise giveaways and local business promotions.
The overall fan experience is an area that should be looked at for improvement as well. Free transportation to and from events are a necessity, especially for late fall and early spring outdoor athletics. Allowing students to use their meal plan or meal points for concessions would be a bonus too. Improved cleanliness and other small alterations to facilities would also help improve overall fan satisfaction and encourage them to attend future events.
Ultimately, the success of Villanova athletics and the greater University community depends on its students and their willingness to support our school. While the incentives and initiatives would make attendance more appealing, it is up to each student at the individual level to rally around our sports teams and give them the backing they need to win. All athletes, regardless of sport or gender, work hard to make sure they put their best foot forward while representing our school. The least we can do as a community is to come out whenever possible to support these young men and women who are the embodiment of what makes Villanova a truly special place.