MARCH TO THE SEA: Harvard Should Promote Sports

Harvard sports fans, you have a right to be disappointed. The baseball Beanpot will not be taking place at Fenway Park. Fenway has hosted the Beanpot for the past 14 years. This year, however, the Red Sox have dropped the axe on the game.

But what’s more troubling is that I am not sure Harvard fans are disappointed because I don’t think Harvard fans know the Beanpot exists.

Dr. Charles Steinberg, Executive Vice President for Public Affairs for the Red Sox, said that the infield needed to be re-sodded on April 20 and 21, the scheduled days for the Beanpot. But Harvard baseball coach Joe Walsh suspects the reason for the change in location is that Red Sox higher-ups decided that not enough money was generated from the event.

“If we were bringing in 10,000 people to the Beanpot, maybe they would open it up to us,” Walsh said.

While it may be unrealistic to attract crowds of 10,000, anyone who has attended a baseball Beanpot game has witnessed an astonishing sight: an empty Fenway Park.

The crowds at Beanpot games are not just low; they are embarrassingly low. There are a number of explanations for the paltry audience. The games are on weekday afternoons, when the rest of the world is attending class or at work. Moreover, college baseball is not exactly a big draw in these parts.

Harvard may not be able to change either of these facts. But Harvard can do a much better job of promoting sporting events like the baseball Beanpot to the student body at large.

How many students know that the baseball team annually plays two games at Fenway? If it’s more than 100, I’d be shocked. How many students would love to sit in the front row at Fenway Park? If it’s less than 1,000, I’d be shocked.

The Beanpot gives students this opportunity. Sure, the game is not Red Sox vs. Yankees. But the product is still high-quality baseball. I bet students would jump at the chance to watch fellow Harvard students take a shot at the Green Monster. The problem is that no one knows.

Harvard does a poor job of advertising all of its sporting events. When the hockey team wins the ECAC Championship, does the school make any effort to get fans to the NCAA Tournament? Minimal, at best. The men’s hockey Beanpot sells out every year, but only because the event has become an institution in Boston. It certainly has nothing to do with a concerted effort on the school’s part to promote our hockey team.

We could be doing more, much more. Want fans to go to Fenway? How about chartering shuttles to drive students the 10 minutes across the Charles River to the park? How about letting the average student know that the game exists?

How about holding a rally for the football team after it wins the Ivy League Championship? How about setting up a big screen television in Annenberg or the Science Center so that we can watch Harvard compete in high-profile events, such as the hockey Beanpot or ECAC Championship, which do not take place in Cambridge?

The lack of athletic support from the College is scandalous. The administration loves to gush over the concept of 41 varsity teams. But where is the follow up? Our high academic standards do not prevent the Athletic Department from organizing events that allow students to get to know winning teams. Michigan and Duke, two prestigious schools, have somehow figured out a way to get their intelligent students excited about sports. But promotion is an afterthought at Harvard.

Yes, some students here resent the role of sports in college life. But this is not why our teams fail to draw fans.

Harvard students appear to be ambivalent towards athletics because a “sports culture” does not exist. At Michigan, whether it’s football, basketball or hockey, students get revved up for athletic contests. It is the center of social life. It is THE activity. At Harvard, the same cannot be said. For a few, athletics is king. But for the general student body, nothing could be farther from the truth.

A sports culture would not only improve social life on campus, but it would also compel better athletes to attend Harvard. This would allow the College to field better teams and make more money, which would in turn lead to even more fan support. And all this could be done without lowering academic standards.

So, let’s get this started. University President Lawrence H. Summers, Athletic Director Bob Scalise, Dean of College Benedict H. Gross ’71, I’ve given you a start. We’ve all read your e-mails on the curricular review and mental health. Now let’s see a “Harvard football is 6-0 and Penn is up next! Get pumped!” e-mail.

If you build it, we will come.

—Staff writer Alex M. Sherman can be reached at sherman@fas.harvard.edu. The King James Bible will return next Friday.