By Chris Norton
With a total capacity of 4,300, Biemesderfer Stadium at Pennsylvania’s Millersville University draws in quite the crowd during sports games, despite the football team having a less than impressive record this past season. Colleges all over the country consist of students who invest themselves in their university’s sports teams. Whether it is football, basketball, or soccer, the sports almost always draw in a proud fan base varying in size.
As they ended their season at a lowly 1-10 record, the Millersville Marauder football team failed to generate a spark among fans. Despite this, every Saturday, the stands were filled with thousands of students, family members, and community members screaming and cheering. Such is the case for most sports at this considerably small university.
The women’s field hockey team here at Millersville University managed to have its best season in the history of the school, therefore catching the attention of students and the community. Their fan base has expanded exponentially since then, and has continued to grow even after their impressive run ended sadly in Virginia Beach against Shippensburg University. The Marauder’s success was undoubtedly the main reason for the growth in spirit among fans. However, at larger schools like Penn State University, for example, most sports teams draw in large crowds regardless of records or success. The difference being, with larger schools being nationally broadcasted, fans feel more of an appreciation for their university’s teams.
Generally, these Division I schools are much more strict with athletic recruitment, so the players on these teams have earned their positions. Division II universities, like Millersville, recruit with talent in mind obviously, but receive significantly less funding than organizations at Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, and University of Maryland to name a few. This creates a greater deal of difficulty for Millersville in terms of finding talented players who are willing to play, or even sit on the sidelines for a few weeks waiting to play. All of these factors tie into fan attendance, as well as experience for all those present.
Division II schools are not the only ones encountering low fan attendance, however. Writer for bleacherreport.com Adam Kramer says “College football has an attendance problem. Not an interest problem, and certainly not a money problem, but an empty-stadium epidemic that is gaining steam,” and according to Jon Solomon of AL.com “Through the first five weeks of the college football season, attendance in Football Bowl Subdivision games was down 3 percent from 2012 and 6 percent from 2011.” Larger schools do not necessarily mean more sports attendees. Typically, teams suffering many losses in a season tend to decrease the spirit in fans. Such is the case for Texas Christian University’s football team. Despite being a Division I school with a fairly populous stadium, the team’s poor season has reflected in the stands.
With more school spirit undoubtedly comes more emotion. This is especially evident at university sporting events. Senior Penn State student Brian Ennis on the hectic environment said “The problem I encounter every now and then is the group mentality that comes with huge crowds. Once one fan starts screaming and yelling vulgarities, everyone else feels the need to join in, which sometimes makes our student section look bad. It would be nice to have smaller crowds at times for space efficiency and whatnot, but there is no doubt that a big fan base can be a lot of fun.”
The atmosphere at Millersville University is much different than schools with enormous student sections in both good and bad ways. Sophomore Millersville University student Alex Geli said “I have absolutely no problem with Millersville’s smaller sized sports programs. It’s nice when the community, students, and surrounding townspeople get together in a more collaborative and intimate environment. Plus, albeit exciting and a reason to pride yourself in your university, having the magnetizing impact that big sports programs bring, I think, dilutes the overall reputation that the university upholds as an academic institution.” Despite the smaller crowds, students invested in Millersville’s teams possess considerable amounts of passion. The only difference being the number of those accounted for in the stands wearing yellow and black, hoping for a Marauder win.
Writer for NCAA.org, Gary K. Johnson said “Almost 49 million fans attended college football games at all 644 NCAA football-playing schools during the 2012-13 season.” The University of Michigan topped the scale with a stadium capacity of 109,901, and Penn State closely followed holding 106,572. The capacity of Biemesderfer Stadium pales in comparison to these numbers, but some would argue that school spirit does as well. Sophomore at Millersville University Ryan Woerner said “The fans don’t seem as into it. It kind of hurts everything. Coming here and seeing that my high school stadium was nicer than my college one was a bummer. College football has a cult following, but we can barely attract our students without even charging them.”
Now a senior at Penn State, undergraduate Zach Sloane feels the opposite about his school’s enthusiasm. “I love the huge student section and large attendance at our football games. Attending a school like Penn State gives you a huge sense of pride for your team. Everything from the mascot to the cheerleaders magnifies the excitement. Another aspect I enjoy is the nationwide coverage we receive as a school. Seeing our team on ESPN the day after a game is always a surreal feeling. It’s nice to know people are fans of our team all across the country.”
Not only do experiences vary among colleges all across the country, but opinions do as well. Students, locals, and overall fans consider college sporting events fantastic ways to show school spirit for their university. Crowd sizes and school enthusiasm differ all over the country. Millersville University is home to a fairly small stadium with a decently sized fan base, though some students may disagree. Regardless, college sports fans love flashing school colors and screaming at the top of their lungs just to show their pride, whether it is among a crowd of 500, or 100,000.