MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Last March, the unthinkable became thinkable; a college basketball season ended without conference tournaments and the college athletic year’s most anticipated event for fans, the NCAA Tournaments themselves.
The lesson that came from that, even in the midst of a pandemic unlike any we’ve seen, is that sports is an essential part of American life, and so it was we found ways to play the games in as safe an atmosphere and under the strictest of guidelines that we could create.
The safety aspect of it, however, led to an unwelcome phenomenon, that being collegiate football and basketball in fan-less arenas.
It is almost a year now and, to be honest, the end is not yet in sight, which got us to wondering just how our fandom here in West Virginia was dealing with being unable to attend games or with having to watch games on television with empty stands or cardboard cutouts of fans.
So, it was we took to social media for a couple of quick polls of fans on Twitter and Facebook, trying to assess what they thought of the adjustments made so we could play the games and whether it might not create a permanent change in the behavior or expectations of fans.
Poll No. 1:
How has the COVID1-19 pandemic most closely changed your life as a sports fan?
Can’t wait for fans to be allowed back …. 60.2%
Becoming hooked watching games on TV … 2.8%
Finding other interests …. 22.2%
Enjoying more family time … 14.8%
Poll No. 2:
Miss friends at games … 20.2%
Listen to Tony Caridi over the TV announcers … 23.2%
Saving money by not going to games … 20.2%
Feel sorry for players … 36.4%
It is obvious that having games without fans is not a trend that will carry over into the future, although certainly fans don’t miss sitting in traffic on game days or standing in concession lines to purchase overpriced food and drink.
It is also obvious that with a captive audience, TV has done a dismal job of making viewing the games the thing to do, with only 2.8% saying they are becoming hooked on the comforts of watching from home or at a local establishment. A quarter of the fans do, however, admit that they listen to WVU play-by-play announcer Tony Caridi over listening to the TV hucksters.
The fact that 37% of the fans either are finding other interests or enjoying more family time indicate that fans are simply not sitting around and moping about not being able to attend games and putting the time and money they are saving to a good use.
Interestingly, the fans seem to feel the plight of the players, who are being asked to give top emotional and physical efforts without a home field advantage or without the adoring adulation that fans pour down upon them.
Make no doubt, fans are a key element in what makes college sports what they are.
We know that because you told us with your comments.
Louis Oliverio was most outspoken about it through a couple of Facebook replies:
“Look at this video from Duke–look at the 5 coaches from VT standing around looking clueless during a time out as VT is being blown out of the gym–you tell me there isn’t a huge difference between this in 2013 and what’s going on now,” he wrote, including a video of the Cameron Crazies.
“Or this–there was not a full house there that night due to a snowstorm–but you don’t think this made a difference,” he added, complete with video as WVU upset No. 1 Kansas at the Coliseum.
“As football season ticket holders, we were able to go to 2 of the 3 games this year. However, a lack of tailgating, the crowds, the band took away from the overall experience. We didn’t bother with the third game. As for basketball I hate the cardboard cutouts!!” said Karen Slonaker.
The experience is an empty one for many, if they do get to get into some games.
“My first time to not see a game in Mountaineer Field in 30 years,” said John Olesky. “Season ticket holder all those years, even in 2020 even though I didn’t go to any games due to the pandemic.”
Make no doubt that the way the game is broadcast makes a difference and that Mountaineer fans aren’t thrilled with the national announcers doing the game.
“Do not like listening to the major station announcers. Would love to mute them and list to play-by-play by Tony but there’s always a lag time,” said Carla Bowman Cash. “Any suggestions?”
Yes, Jennifer Ogden does.
“I miss being at the games. I want to cheer them on in person. We do have a radio that will let us watch TV and list to JAY and TONY without the delay.”
Richard Harnett delivered one criticism that certainly was expected.
“Background noise is worse than listening to Dickie V!!”
The fans are understanding of why the players can’t quite reach the emotional levels that are reached while playing sold out games before a student section and stadium or Coliseum full of faithful.
“As for my family, we only made it to one game a year so it hasn’t had an impact on us,” Curt Ross began. “As far as the game itself, I think it’s like watching a pickup game. The players seem to struggle at times not having the energy of the crowd to feed off of.”
And Brady Demasi was also thinking of the players when he wrote:
“I feel bad for the hard-working players. Feeding off the crowd’s reaction has to be a major factor in the games. I have watched more basketball games on TV so far this year than any other.”
In the end, sports is the reality of the college athletes’ lives, but it is the fantasy getaway for the fans, who have handled it with patience and understanding. They are, though, getting itchy to get back to the social event that is a WVU athletic contest.