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Where Were The Students At Homecoming? We Went To Find Out

We spent the last couple days talking to students and other folks around USF about why the attendance for Homecoming was so poor. We got one answer, but a lot of reasons.

NCAA Football: East Carolina at South Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, I tagged along with USF Associate AD Andrew Goodrich to a few student organization meetings. These were fraternity/sorority weekly chapter meetings, a community service group for African-American women, and other similar university student organizations. He was there to remind students about the game on Saturday vs. UConn, and also ask if they had any questions about Athletics.

He asked a few groups for a show of hands as to how many had been to a football game this year. Often the majority of the room went up. Then he’d ask how many went on Saturday, and you’d get a few at best. When he asked why, literally everyone in every room basically said some version of the following:

“It’s too hot. Noon kickoffs are terrible.”

Jamie had his long list of excuses from yesterday, but from the students I only heard one. And to USF’s credit, they’re doing what they can: free ice for anyone that asks, water fountains everywhere, and cooling stations by the student section on the North Patio.

I also know people want to support USF and the team. They’re excited that the Bulls are showing signs of being good again. But they aren’t so excited that they’re willing to sweat in the heat for about four hours. And the quality of opponent did matter, as many of them sucked it up anyway for FSU.

All of them were aware of how to get game tickets, and were reading the emails they got from Athletics each week about the upcoming game. What did surprise me is the lack of tailgate planning from the student groups. I was a Kappa Sigma at USF, and we started planning the next tailgate as soon as the first one was over. But these kids tended to put less emphasis on that from what I could tell.

Also what I didn’t know is that the shuttles that take students from campus to the games aren’t some lame Bull Runner: they’re fully air conditioned luxury busses with wi-fi & charging stations at each seat. This seems like a pretty great way to get to and from the games, and big props to Athletics and Student Government on making that happen.

From what I could tell, I’d expect a much bigger crowd on Saturday for UConn. And having a crowd more representative of “normal” attendance before the Big XII Presidents meeting next week in Dallas probably isn’t a bad thing.

In talking to at least a dozen folks around USF this week, I’ve learned about some of the challenges for the Bulls in galvanizing the campus again. Many would say the current leadership in student affairs offices puts little to no emphasis on football or athletics in general. Somewhere along the way, they stopped caring when football games were and scheduled their own programming anyway.

That lack of emphasis is how things like a sorority having a big event happened on Saturday: they don’t know when the games are, and they have to schedule things anyway. It doesn’t help when you can’t tell them if the game will be at 12 p.m. or 7 p.m, and they have programming and community service projects they need to get in during the year. A lot of them assume all games will be at 7 p.m. when doing their scheduling, and when that doesn’t happen, it’s not like they can get refunded for deposits for which they’ve already paid.

The only way to solve this is two-fold: there needs to be a relationship built with students and student groups directly from athletics 365 days a year. They need a point of contact who will be around all year long, and also willing to help those groups meet their goals as well. Does DG need a live read at a basketball game to remind people about Anchor Splash? Done. Does the Association of Filipino Students need a space to hold a reception? Let’s loan them the Selmon Center for an evening. Both sides need to be able to help each other.

The other portion is that USF administrators have to recognize that football must be the #1 event at USF, and that basically everything else needs to stop on game days. There will be other dates throughout the year where athletics needs to be a priority (a big basketball game, or even a big NCAA Tournament match in soccer), but those six or seven home games need to become a focal point for all students. And that emphasis needs to come from the President’s Office on down.

Do you need to do this at other schools? Not really, because it’s already been made a part of the culture. USF kind of got there, but it didn’t really stick before everything fell apart on the field. We aren’t re-starting from scratch here, but it’s not ingrained in the life of an average student as it is in other places.

From what I can surmise Homecoming was a blip, but there’s still plenty of opportunity for growth and tradition building amongst the students. Of course an on-campus stadium will help, but it’s not a cure-all either. It’s a long-term battle, and you’ve got to win hearts and minds.

And winning at 7 p.m. is probably the best way to do that.