There are nine days until Penn football kicks off its 2016 campaign. That’s 22 days after the first college football game of the season.
Sports buffs out there will know that the first game, a matchup between Cal and Hawaii on August 26 in Sydney, Australia, was in the FBS division whereas the Quakers’ first game, against Lehigh on September 17 at 5 p.m., will be played a subdivision below in the FCS. They will also know that Ivy League rules allow for only 10 games per regular season where most FBS schools play 14.
Unfortunately for Penn football, the vast majority of the student body can’t claim the title of sports buff and likely haven’t a clue about opening day. Not where, not when, not who we play.
I was curious to know generally how aware Penn students are of the athletic going-ons at Franklin Field, so I conducted a straw poll of 50 innocent diners at the Houston Hall lunch rush. Of those, three knew the date of the Quakers’ opening game. Strangely, four knew the opponent.
My first question, “do you know when Penn football’s first game is?” was usually met with nervous laughter and blank stares. One couple answered “no,” but defended themselves by saying they knew the date of homecoming – but only because it conflicted with their cousin’s bar mitzvah and their family friends’ wedding. What’s the good of awareness if the positive externality of attendance is nonexistent?
The second question I asked students was whether they knew Penn’s opponent. Guesses ranged from the impossible – Temple – to the improbable – Princeton. A junior boy tried to convince me that the first game had to be Villanova, because it was the first game during both of his previous two years at Penn. He mentioned that he even attended a football practice as a freshman to scout the Quakers’ offensive scheme so he clearly was a fan. Except that he was wrong. In the 111-year history of the Penn-Villanova series, it has never been the season-opener.
Look, I understand that there is supposedly little hype around football at this school because we are an Ivy and sports don’t matter and students are too busy to go because they are studying blah blah blah. I don’t buy it. If we can spend three hours binging on Netflix every night before bed, we can rearrange our priorities a little bit and make the walk to the Frank to watch four quarters of the greatest American sport. Oh, and the team happens to be good; they’re the defending league champions! (The fact that two other teams tied for the lead doesn’t erase the memories of Penn students charging onto the field at the final whistle last season.)
I want to think that people didn’t know about the game because it is still relatively far away. In a world where the instantaneous is preferred and knowing what you’re ordering for dinner when you wake up seems like a planning feat, nine days is an eternity. At nine days away, Class Boards or Penn Athletics haven’t blasted listservs to drum up interest, neon colored fliers haven’t been left on tables at Houston Hall, nor have Facebook event invites been sent. But we shouldn’t need those things to care about a team that is one of the hallmark programs of this university.
For international students, football is an inherently American experience. You have one of the most historic stadiums in the country at your doorstep, so why wouldn’t you go, even if it is just for one game?
And what about the toast throwing? There’s no experience quite like flinging a slightly crispy piece of Wonderbread at the home team bench below, watching waves of carbs rain over your head like those infamous balloon drops at the end of political party conventions. I firmly believe that every Penn student is obligated to experience this bizarre tradition at least once a year.
So go to the game. If you’ve read this far, you know where and when. But once more, with feeling, it’s September 17 at 5 p.m. at Franklin Field against Lehigh.
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