Before we get into the subject at hand (and before I get lambasted by MSU basketball fans with Green and White blinders on their eyes), let’s do a one-question quiz.
Question: Tuesday night at the Breslin Center, Spartan fans cheered the loudest for which of the following events:
A. The pizza giveaway.
B. The t-shirt toss.
C. The mini-ball toss.
D. When Indiana was bringing the ball up the court with less than two minutes to go in a two-possession game against the #3 team in the country missing one of their best players.
If you answered B, you’d be correct.
If you answered A, you’d get partial credit.
If you answered C, you’d also get partial credit.
If you answered D, you probably weren’t at the Breslin Center Tuesday night. You were probably remembering days gone by. Days when the Breslin Center crowd actually impacted a game, not just watched it.
Whenever I write columns or make statements about how MSU’s fan base isn’t performing to expectations, I inevitably hear the response: “come on, that’s how every fan base is, you can’t blame us, everyone does it.”
And if that’s your response, you might as well stop reading now. Be content with average. Go. The rest of us will continue on.
For those of you who are still with me – and who don’t know me – I have credibility when it comes to discussing this subject. I’ve been a Spartan since birth. I have vivid memories crawling under the bleachers as a child in Jenison Fieldhouse – it was loud and scary under there but someone needed to pick up all the plastic cups that people dropped. (It was weird that those cups always went missing when we got home.)
After attending dozens of games in middle and high school, I started attending MSU in 1995, the year that the Spartan Spirits morphed into the Izzone. I had student tickets all 4 years I was there and watched the Izzone grow from 180 members to what it has become today.
I’ve attended over a hundred games since I graduated from MSU in 1999, including dozens as a member of the media over the last 4 years. And I’ve noticed a dramatic drop-off in the fan participation as of late.
The Izzone, of course, is generally great. And that is expected. You can’t be ranked as one of the top student sections in the country and not be great. Last night’s whistle-fest left the Izzone frustrated as well. But my concerns do not lie with the Izzone. They do their job and they do it well, most of the time.
The problem is with 95% of the rest of the building. When you move above the court-level bowl, the Breslin Center fans transform from fans who are doing their best to impact the game to fans who are simply watching the game. It’s as if these fans have come to witness a basketball game, instead of being active participants in the game.
Instead of making loud noises to disrupt the opposing team when they have the ball, the fans simply watch. If MSU makes a stop, there is a polite clap. If not, there is grumbling. It’s as if these fans are watching the game on TV. They mumble and grumble when things are going wrong and they cheer when things are going right. But, with very few exceptions, they don’t do anything to assist the team.
Many columns have been written about the Spartans’ lack of energy and success in the Breslin Center this year. My theory: they are absorbing the lethargic indifference that the fans are bringing to the game. When they are on the road, the Spartans can feel the passion from the other fans and can use that passion in their own game. At home, the fans wander in throughout the first half (or don’t even show up) and certainly don’t react until the players make great plays.
It’s almost the chicken-or-the-egg thing. Which comes first? The enthusiastic crowd or the enthusiastic players? My answer: both need to pick the other up when they need it.
If the team is playing poorly, that’s when they need the crowd the most. If the crowd is tired and cold, the players need to show some hustle and grit and get the crowd moving. When it gets going, it’s a wonderful thing. When it’s dead, it’s completely dead.
Last night, for example: One of isportsweb’s interns was covering the game from press row, so I took the opportunity to attend the game with my oldest son. Elijah and I arrived at the Breslin Center about 45 minutes early. Rather than go up to our nosebleed seats at the top of section 204, we sat in the second row, waiting for the ticket holders to show up. They never did. So that was good for us. Bad for the team, but good for us.
Anyway, throughout the game, the Spartan defense needed to make stops. The crowd should have been loud and making noise to assist the team. They should have become the proverbial Sixth Man. They weren’t. Not even close. When my son and I would shout “De-fense, De-fense” over and over again, we were the only ones in section 204 doing it. And we were getting looks for doing it. I looked around. I saw a half dozen people in the sections nearby us doing anything other than watching. I decided to take out my phone and take video of it. (I told my son to be quiet while I videotaped.)
Here are two separate clips that show what it was like most of the time last night (and many, many nights before):
I chose these videos because they represent the vast majority of the game Tuesday night. The only time – seriously, the only time – that fans outside of the court-level bowl stood up and made noise was with 20 seconds left in the game. And only a portion of them participated.
Of course, it will be different on Saturday night when the Wolverines come to town. The crowd will be loud. It will affect the game. But that’s normal. That’s what every single fan base in the history of fan bases does. It gets up for the rivalry game. That’s expected.
If MSU fans want to just do what is expected, that’s fine. But don’t go touting how awesome the Breslin Center crowd is. If the fans only do the bare minimum, that’s the amount of notoriety they should receive: hardly any at all.
Maybe today’s fans are too used to watching it on TV.
Maybe they don’t know how to impact the game.
So, for those who simply don’t know… here is an easy way to make a difference as a fan:
- When the opposing team has the ball, make a lot of noise. Scream, yell, clap, do whatever you can to distract them and make them unable to communicate with each other.
- When MSU has the ball, take a break, sit back, relax and be quiet. Let them talk to each other and communicate.
- Repeat for the entire game.
And the real key to a great fan base is to be able to do this game in and game out. Not just when North Carolina or Michigan come to the Breslin Center. Do it when it is needed the most. Do it during the games where the opponents are less talented. Do it when players are out with injury. Do it when the team is struggling.
Can the Breslin Center fans get back to the level they were at 10 years ago? Of course they can. But if they aren’t willing to put in the effort, they will be viewed as they currently are: a very average fan base.
That perception can change. But it won’t change against Michigan. The first time the Breslin crowd will have the opportunity to prove that it once again belongs in the category of dominant, cheering fans will be against Penn State on February 6… in a game that isn’t against a rival or a brand name basketball university – but a game that shouldn’t be overlooked by the players. Or the fans.
Spartan fans: if you want to be CONSIDERED elite, it’s time to once again BE elite.
(NOTE: After I wrote this, I Google’d it so that I could pass it on to someone. This article came up. Apparently, I wrote something very similar 2 years ago after the MSU vs Michigan game. Things are not improving.)