I have seen a lot as a four-year member of the Red and Blue Crew.
I’ve seen the Palestra packed with screaming Quakers fans. I was there when the 2007 Quakers cut down the nets, and I’ve twice rushed the court to celebrate wins.
Recently, however, the coalition of Penn student fans has dwindled to the point where I’m afraid younger Penn students may not have the same Palestra experiences I had.
In the final days of my time as a student fan, I’ve reflected on this growing problem and come to one conclusion: The Palestra will rock with student support again, but not without some drastic changes.
The first revelation came as the Quakers were finishing off their upset over No. 22 Cornell. The student section was packed, screaming its hearts out as Penn pulled off what many major media outlets are referring to as the tentative “upset of the year.”
Many students didn’t show up until after halftime, when they knew that Penn could likely win, but why should that matter?
After all, having the opportunity to see their team win is a major reason why students throughout the nation show up to basketball games.
Only a few student fan bases continue to support losing programs.
As a case study, look at UCLA, the nation’s most decorated program. As the Bruins have fallen from a Final Four team to a Tourney team to a .500 team over the past three years, their average home attendance figures have also plummeted — from 10,580 in 2007-08 to 8,045 this year.
The Palestra’s attendance has similarly dropped. In the 2006-07 Ivy Championship season, an average of 4,914 fans showed up to Quaker’s home games. Last year, it was only 3,656, and while it is not official, this years figures will likely be even lower.
The team’s success is clearly a major factor that, when achieved, will bring students back to the Palestra. But is that the only piece of the puzzle?
In 2008, only one year removed from Penn’s last Ivy League Championship the marketing team drastically changed the student ticketing policy to general admission.
A rule was instituted in which only the students who participate in the Line, the annual tradition of spending the night at the Palestra, can sit in the lower bowl. Other students are relegated to the upper-tier seats.
The only consequence of that policy has been dwindling numbers and participation, both at the games and at the Line.
Even at the Princeton game, when a combination of optimism left over from the Cornell victory and the senior Feb Club Event led to decent student attendance, the student section remained essentially lifeless.
Students not only need an incentive to show up, but also the environment where they can get excited and rowdy.
They need an atmosphere where they can be boisterous along with their friends or fraternity buddies, can cheer and heckle together and get those around them fired up.
Simply, the division of seating has to go if Penn wants to regain its home court advantage.
The pessimist (or is it the realist?) in me wants to say eliminate the Line and change the policy to general admission for all students. That way, the most enthusiastic fans show up first and can lead the cheering. If the policy is good enough for Duke, it’s certainly good enough for Penn.
Besides, the Line has become a shell of its former self, dwindling from a weekend, to 24 hours, to the 12-hour event it currently is.
But the idealist in me still loves the Line and would dread to see it disappear from Penn culture altogether. And I have faith in Penn basketball and the students here to again put their all behind the Red and Blue.
A better solution would be to keep the Line, perhaps even extending the length to the 24 hours it was my freshman and sophomore years. Eliminate the divided seating, and let the students who show up first be the ones with the best seats. And let students who participate in The Line be rewarded with free season tickets.
Sure, it’s not perfect. It could potentially mean an income loss for the University and far from guarantees that students will show up en masse to enthusiastically cheer on the team.
But as one of the few four-year season ticket-holding members of the Class of 2010, I believe that it provides the most reasonable solution I can think of to these problems.
I don’t know when the Red and Blue Crew will again witness the Quakers cutting down the Palestra nets, and I don’t know when it will again get the opportunity to rush the court in celebration.
But I know that the time will come. And I hope that when Steve Bilsky and the Crew leaders meet at the end of this season, they take the necessary steps to ensure that when it does, the Palestra rocks as loud as ever.
NEIL FANAROFF is a senior Economics major from Potomac, Md., and is former Design Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be contacted at email@example.com.