I love Sun Chips. They’re easily in my top 5 all-time chips. They’re also a little bit like Penn basketball. Follow me here:
In 2009, in an effort to improve the company’s environmental practices, Frito Lay started packaging Sun Chips in biodegradable bags. But there was this minor issue — the new bags were noisy as hell. People, myself included, couldn’t get over how much crinkling the bags made every time you reached for a chip.
Frito Lay was smart. 18 months after the bag fiasco began, company management realized their mistake and abandoned the greener compostable bags for their old, quieter models. The company says it will reintroduce the environmentally friendly bags but only when they can solve the noise issue.
Penn Athletics? Not so smart.
Athletic administrators have a similarly unpopular product in Penn basketball’s season kickoff event, The Line. But unlike Frito Lay, they won’t abandon something that people just don’t like.
For the last several years, attendance at The Line has declined precipitously. The scene Friday night at the Palestra was aptly described as an awkward birthday party for children — people standing around with not much to do in a venue far too large for the actual attendance. But how did it get like this?
The Line originated from one simple fact: those first to get Penn basketball season tickets also got first dibs on Penn’s allotment of seats for its nearly-inevitable NCAA tournament appearance.
Nowadays, for a host of reasons, Penn’s ticket to the big dance isn’t signed and sealed in the preseason. Students have no reason to sleep over for tickets.
For what kinds of events do people camp out? Megastar concerts, iPhone releases and Harry Potter movies. There’s a reason people want to be first to hold, hear and see these things. Penn basketball doesn’t have that clout right now.
It’s time to end The Line.
Athletic Director Steve Bilsky won’t. He’s too concerned with preserving the tradition — and there’s something admirable in that.
But it’s time to stop kidding ourselves and cut our losses. Organizers have tried tinkering with the event for several years with no success.
At one especially low point in the action Friday night, a Penn Athletics marketing director sat down on the Palestra bleachers and said, to no one in particular, “Three weeks of work and only 50 students,” his face the epitome of disappointment.
We worry a lot about traditions at Penn, but for every one that exists, there are two that have fallen by the wayside. Remember the ol’ Bowl Fight? What about Push Ball? Sophomore cremation? Ever actually been to Skimmer on the Schuylkill?
Didn’t think so.
Our best-known tradition, the toast toss, is an adaptation of an older one that emerged when the traditional high-ball toast became irrelevant.
When (not if) the basketball program returns to its yearly dominance, perhaps The Line will re-find its place in Penn traditions. The event began organically and if it ever returns, that should be the case.
Until then, Penn Athletics administrators can continue to hang onto the shreds of life left in the event as it continues to die a slow and painful death.
Or they can innovate, start a new and more popular tradition, and maybe make a little more noise with the student population here and now.
CALDER SILCOX is a senior science, technology and society major from Washington, D.C., and is Senior Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. His email address is silcox@theDP.com.