Bearkats hibernating during sporting events? At a university with a nationally ranked baseball program back-to-back seasons, a volleyball team that spent the better part of the season in first place in the Southland Conference and a football team that has been a top-five program in the country overall for the last four years, the successful athletes that take the field each night probably can’t help but wonder, “Where are all of our fans?”
Sam Houston State University has been nothing short of an NCAA Division 1 athletic prowess since 2015. The fall semester of that year saw a record enrollment of 20,120 students. Since then, our student population has only grown, with a new record-setting 21,115 students enrolled last semester (Fall 2017). To put that into perspective, Nicholls State University had just 5,717 undergraduates enrolled last semester, and Stephen F. Austin University totaled 12,614 students. Let’s take a look at the most recent atrocity — the FCS football playoffs.
SHSU was all-but publicly shamed after a tweet from @FCS_STATS that ranked institutions by their second-round playoff attendance. Our university came in last (by a large margin) out of the eight schools, trailing leading North Dakota State by almost 14,000 fans. Even a school in our own conference came in more than 1,600 fans ahead of us as Central Arkansas drew 6,243. SHSU drew a “crowd” of 4,401. It is worth noting that UCA has about half of the student population of SHSU, with just 11,350 students enrolled last semester.
Even after an exciting victory over South Dakota in that second round, and a much-anticipated match-up against Kennesaw State waiting in the wings, the quarterfinals spelled further embarrassment for the Bearkats. Four schools hosted quarterfinals games: North Dakota State (with an attendance of 17,008), James Madison University (public enemy No. 1 for loyal Kats fans who drew 13,490 spectators), Sam Houston State University (who came in third out of the four schools with 5,725 fans), and South Dakota State (rounding out the field with their figure of 5,583).
All athletic events are free to SHSU students with a valid Bearkat One card, so the problem does not seem to be financial. Even when the NCAA mandated a $5 admission charge per student for the FCS quarterfinals playoff game, the University covered that cost to maintain their loyalty to students attending their events for free. The Athletics department gives away free t-shirts to fans who get to football games early and has multiple in-game promotions to try an increase fan attendance. So why is it that SHSU has such poor student attendance at athletic events?
Sure, students lead busy lives; but then again, so does any university’s student body. We are an established institution with long-running athletic programs. We don’t lack school pride, and we have the student population to compete with larger universities when it comes to fan attendance. Is it because our student populous just doesn’t care? As a fellow Bearkat, I refuse to believe this. I refuse to abandon faith in our students’ ability to rally behind a football team that is competing for a National Championship. I believe the problem is that our students don’t know the winning pedigree our sports teams have. Simply put, fan attendance is low because people don’t know how good we are. Well, consider this your wake-up call. If you are a current SHSU student or a Bearkat alumnus, this is your notification: your university WINS when they take the field. They win for themselves, they win for the school and they win for you. The least you could do is show up and support their rise to victory.