This is the beginning of a weekly column by Center Field’s editor-in-chief, Jonathan Kinane. While many of these stories will be opinion pieces, the aim of this project is to provide fair, well-reported analysis on topics concerning Marist athletics.
This week will focus on the obvious lack of student involvement at Marist sporting events, a problem that has plagued many teams since pre-pandemic times.
At some point, you’ve probably experienced it.
You’re at a Marist game, you look around and think to yourself, “Where’s the excitement? Where’s the atmosphere?”
As someone who has covered scores of sporting events in my three-and-a-half years on campus, I often find myself thinking along those lines whether I’m covering a game or simply attending as a spectator. All three of the Marist basketball games I attended over the weekend had fans in the seats, yet lacked an atmosphere befitting of a Division I school.
The case and point was on display Sunday afternoon during the mens basketball 70-55 loss to league-leading Siena. The Saints, coming off an exciting win over Iona, brought their vocal fanbase to the Mid-Hudson Valley, filling up Section 102 (behind the visiting bench) and making more noise than any of the Marist faithful.
The green-and-gold-clad supporters implored their team to clamp down on defense; meanwhile, the Marist bench and cheer squad were the only parties truly rallying behind their side.
The end result was an early exodus for Marist fans while Siena salted the game away knowing victory was secure. The result was the same as Friday evening – another home loss for the men – and even with the womens basketball team posting an easy victory on Saturday, it still felt as if something was missing.
On paper, the attendance numbers don’t look that bad.
Right now, the women’s basketball team is second in the MAAC to Fairfield in attendance with an average of 1,046 fans turning up to watch Brian Giorgis’s team in the McCann Center. The men’s team is in the middle of the pack in the attendance standings, averaging a crowd of just over 1,000 people per game.
Those numbers are nothing to scoff at, but a quick glance around at any basketball game reveals that the local population, many of whom own season tickets, is accounting for the bulk of those numbers. Student involvement is very clearly lacking.
There’s no definitive way to prove it, but having an impassioned student section does make a noticeable difference in the gameday atmosphere. A quick look at the home record of numerous Marist teams will show that opponents clearly aren’t deterred by the atmosphere Marist provides; certainly, some more student support for the home team wouldn’t hurt.
Football went 1-5 at Tenney in the fall, women’s soccer only won three of the nine games it played on home soil and the basketball teams have combined to go 6-13 at McCann. As it stands, men’s soccer is the only team with a winning home record, posting a 5-2-1 mark in the fall, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering their status as a rare Marist team known for drawing boisterous crowds.
For basketball games, the bleachers toward the far end of the McCann Center serve as the student section, which is a generous designation on many nights. Oftentimes, the students that do show up are other athletes who are there to support their peers.
The vast majority of the student population sees attending a Marist game as a social event, which is fine. Students go to the games to have fun. There’s nothing wrong with that – that’s how it is pretty much everywhere.
Where it differs is that the student body does not seem to be truly invested in any of the varsity teams, especially with some of the big-ticket programs such as football and men’s basketball struggling in their respective seasons.
I’ve been to more than enough games this season, and the best atmosphere I felt was at the club hockey “Pink Game” in October, which was a non-varsity team playing off-campus.
Indeed, there does seem to be some indifference toward the athletic teams and how they perform here at Marist. With students leaving football games in droves at halftime or not showing up at all toward the end of the season, it’s clear that interest currently isn’t where it needs to be.
Success is what puts people in the seats. Three years ago, Marist women’s basketball went 26-4 and was head and shoulders above the rest of the MAAC in attendance, averaging close to 2,000 fans per game. I was a freshman then and I remember most games being loud with a palpable student presence.
Fast forward through a global pandemic and a severely underwhelming season, and that atmosphere has quickly dissipated. The changed dynamic has occurred in spite of womens basketball showing some significant improvement this season, as they’ve already surpassed their win total from a year ago, not to mention the fact that this season serves as the farewell tour for Brian Giorgis, who many consider to be the greatest coach in Marist history.
Success is a less familiar term when it comes to sports such as men’s basketball and football, but there have still been a few glimpses that show Marist students can indeed create an inhospitable atmosphere.
When the men’s basketball team hosted Manhattan last February on the back of a five-game winning streak, a raucous crowd of 2,566 made McCann feel like a legitimate home-court advantage for the Red Foxes, who went on to win that game before imploding down the stretch.
In its last two seasons, Marist football has hosted night games against non-conference games that have drawn very well, with the program setting an attendance record back in 2021 against Bryant. The crowd that night buzzed with excitement, as the combination of family weekend and the first home game in a post-pandemic world resulted in an extremely engaged crowd.
Perhaps the most encouraging example of the potential Marist has to create exciting environments came during the mens soccer MAAC Championship Game against Rider. An animated horde of fans seemingly willed the team to victory as they prevailed over the Broncs in a penalty shootout to punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament, culminating in fans storming the field in celebration.
The problem with these examples is that they are the exception, not the rule. Big crowds come out on occasion, but not every night; exciting gameday atmospheres at Marist currently amount to nothing more than lightning in a bottle.
What the students ought to do is turn a typical Thursday or Friday into a night where there is a big event. A sporting event.
Now, as a college student, I understand that there are classes, homework, and internships to deal with while trying to balance a personal life.
But I know the interest is still there.
When I tell people about my position with Center Field, Marist sports usually becomes part of the discussion. I wouldn’t say that many people are enthralled with the state of Marist athletics, but many of the questions I get asked show that the student body does care — or wants to care.
To me, it’s a concept akin to voting. You think that you’re one person and you can’t possibly make a difference. We all know someone who thinks like that. The problem is that when enough people have that mindset, it does make a difference.
So, get out there. Go be a part of a vital college experience. Go to a basketball game, go to a water polo match, go to a lacrosse game, go see baseball or softball play.
Win or lose, it should be a fun time.
If enough people show up, it could be the difference between the football team getting off the field on third down versus giving up a scoring drive. It could help either of the soccer teams find the will to score an extra goal. Maybe it causes a missed free throw that helps one of the basketball teams win a game.
Now, as a student journalist, I don’t actively root for Marist. I’m sure there are plenty of people inside the athletic department that would back me up on that. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m proud to go here.
In my eyes, it’s a shame to see so many empty seats at Marist sporting events. The athletes, coaches, and the fans who do show up deserve better.
The student body needs to do better.
Edited by Luke Sassa
Photo from Luke Sassa