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How To Fix Penn State Basketball

2132610470_81ef1e0dc5Penn State Men’s Basketball has never been a powerhouse – its trip to the Sweet 16 in 2001 is widely regarded as a pleasant fluke. It’s not like there is a negative sentiment toward the program; it’s rather somewhat of a broadly accepted apathy. One of my favorite Phollegian articles was about the failure of DeChellisburg – a poorly conceived Paternoville-esque encampment for basketball games. The name alone inspires groans.

To me, it really captured the average Penn Stater’s attitude towards the basketball team – acknowledged, but mostly as a joke. The student body will occasionally embrace its existence, but not with the fervent worship that happens in Beaver Stadium. To force a 90’s TV metaphor, if Penn State Football is The Fresh Prince, Penn State Basketball is Carlton.

So why bring this up now? Why say that the Nittany Nation is in disrepair when – knock on wood – an NCAA tournament invitation is on the way?

It’s because they’ve accomplished this feat in spite of the Penn State fanbase.

This isn’t meant to be an attack – just a very blunt attempt at inspiring rhetoric. For whatever reason, the majority of Penn State fans don’t get that they certainly haven’t made the program’s attempts at improving any easier.

And of course, there are exceptions. Nittany Nation has a small contingent of loyal fans who show unparalleled enthusiasm in the Bryce Jordan Center – I’ve seen the guys wearing home-made Pringles cans (in support of the similarly-named Guard), plastic army helmet-sporting fans asking if “I’m Ready For The [Talor] Battle?,” and whoever waves  the flag for every time out. You guys can just skip to the part where the University has to help our blue and white ballers out.

As a student body, we generally need to be more enthusiastic in general about Penn State basketball – especially in the Bryce Jordan Center. A letter in the Collegian last week expressed this sentiment – citing Illinois’ Orange Krush as a great example of basketball support. The writers were absolutely right – even during tough games like the Illini’s low-scoring bout against the Lions, they were a pillar of loyalty. We owe this to our basketball team, win or lose.

After all, if you were a high-profile recruit, wouldn’t you want to play for a student body that was excited to see you play? Basketball teams win because of superior talent, and superior talent is attracted to a great game atmosphere. Try as the minority of die-hard Nittany Nations fans might, we don’t have that yet.

Given the behavior so many of us demonstrate for Penn State football, we should expect even better. Why doesn’t anyone tell me that “it’s 10:00, and Michigan still sucks” past December? Better yet – why aren’t we pulling off stuff like Operation Scheyerface? We’re perfectly capable of organizing just as good or even more impressive mischief.

Don’t worry, I’m not heaping all of the blame on us. There are a few things that Penn State – both the University and the team are being lumped together for the sake of argument – can do to make Happy Valley a basketball haven:

Make The Tournament

Granted, this is asking a lot considering Penn State Men’s Basketball history – their last trip to the Final Four was in 1954. But this has been a fantastic season, and to fall short of every Division I NCAA team’s goal in such an excruciating fashion would make the uphill battle to cultivate a loyal fanbase a degree steeper.

But, it’s easy for me to urge Battle and Co. to win – I’m not on the court.

Students Get In Free

All but one of the Penn State Men’s Basketball games I’ve attended have been free. This doesn’t happen too often, but every now and then, someone will wise up and lower admission to nothing, or give out enough tickets that someone even as poorly connected as me can come across one. I enjoyed those games – even though the only one our team won was the one I paid for (last year’s game against Virginia Tech).

The idea behind this is supply and demand. It doesn’t make sense to think that the largely apathetic student body is jumping to pay for season tickets when uber-popular programs like UNC let their students in free.

There is the argument that $59 – the price on this year’s student season package – is a paltry sum, especially compared to what students are willing to shell out for football tickets. But I think – price aside, the convenience aspect of a student not having to worry about buying a ticket package will make the idea of going to games much more popular. One swipe of a Penn State id, and one more butt in the stands. If the BJC starts getting packed regularly, make student seating first-come, first served. That’s when the title of ‘Best Student Section’ will extend beyond Beaver.

The Greatest Show…

Before every football game the past (at least) two seasons, Penn State boasts that we’re experiencing “The Greatest Show In College Football. And they’re right. Penn State football games are fun not only because of the fan enthusiasm, and the jaw-droppingly awesome feats of athleticism that occur within the confines of Beaver Stadium, but the theatricality of games. Think of all the great memories you have of the Nittany Lion dancing in the end zone.

The last basketball game I saw, the Nittany Lion “stole” the Philadelphia Phillies’ Championship Trophy and the Phanatic chased after him. That was our halftime show. Seriously. Listen – I know great halftime acts cost money, but don’t tell me that the money isn’t there. I just saw students in Findlay Commons hand out four billion small cards advertising Thursday’s bout against Illinois, only to have the recipients throw them out eight steps down the hallway. Cut that budget if you need to.

The promotions haven’t blown me away either. Cheerleaders handed out Subway sandwiches during a time-out. They didn’t shoot them out of a cannon – the gingerly handed them out. I’m sorry, but that sucks. Even if I do get the sympathy of a designated sandwich-hander-outer, how do I even know that I’m getting a sandwich I actually like? I know the BJC has a ginormous arrangement with the fast food chain, but that’s the best a Division I university can do? Maybe we should let humor websites know we’re open to hosting large-scale pranks.

I’m a man of reason. I know that this isn’t the best time (economically speaking) to suggest risking money on something that has lukewarm support at best. But if you make it great, they will come. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people complain that there’s little to do in this town other than drink and watch football – give them a third option.

In Conclusion

I know my suggestions aren’t perfect, but it’s a start. For such a remarkably spirited school with the largest alumni network in the nation, it’s ludicrous that there isn’t more support for our basketball team. However, I refuse to believe that the program is destined to be treated as second-class forever. With some more fan support, help from the University, and most of all, faith – we can be a basketball school as well.

[Photo courtesy of Flickr’s acaben]

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About the Author


Mark McColey is a Senior majoring in Advertising and Labor-Employment relations. Among his loves are Penn State Football, The Steelers, The Penguins, The Simpsons, Tina Fey, and Arrested Development.

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