BLAME IT ON THE AL-KOE-HOL: Students Should Use Athletic Events as Social Spaces

Blame It on the Al-koe-hol

“We can’t hear you! WE CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

Jersey clad and scarf-wearing Bentley fans drowned out a small group of Crimson faithful as they attempted to put together a dismissive “Na na na na, na na na na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye” chant in the closing minutes of last Saturday’s dominant 5-0 Harvard men’s ice hockey victory at Bright Hockey Arena.

The No. 17 Crimson opened the season with high expectations following an impressive post-season run to close out the 2011-12 campaign, yet student interest in what has long been perceived as one of Harvard’s premier sports is waning.

Of the 2,911 people in attendance on Saturday night, I can roughly estimate that Harvard undergraduates were outnumbered 4:1 by their road-tripping Bentley compatriots. There is no obligation on behalf of students to get out and support their school’s athletics, and Saturday night was the biggest night of Halloweekend with parties to attend and Rubinoff to consume. But the game against Bentley was representative of a larger trend across the board for Harvard sports teams—with the lone exception of Crimson men’s basketball: a lack of a real home-field advantage in the way of fan support.

Harvard’s men’s ice hockey program is over 100 years old. The Crimson won a national championship in 1989, are currently ranked in the Top 25 and have produced no fewer than 24 All-Americans, 24 National Hockey League players, and 30 Olympians. On this season’s roster alone there are nine players who have already been drafted by NHL teams. Yet, at the opening game of the season a school with 2,000 fewer undergraduates than Harvard was able to bus in many times the number of fans to support its team. If this team can’t get fans out to its games, what hope does a team like, for example, field hockey have?

And it’s not for want of the Harvard athletic department’s trying. In addition to free tickets for undergraduates, the first 100 students carrying a valid HUID were given free dinner and dessert. Efforts to get fans of any kind into Bright extended to any proven resident of Allston, Brighton, or Cambridge gaining free admission as well. Perhaps these promotions could be better publicized, but I doubt that would accomplish much in the way of getting people through the door and supporting Harvard hockey.

A common argument is ‘why should we care?’ Who cares if Harvard students are supporting their sports teams or not? After all, couldn’t they be spending their time on more important things? Leaving aside the discussion of inter-collegiate athletics having a strong and deep connection with the idealized version of an American undergraduate education, what benefit does spending two hours on a Saturday night cheering for your classmates have for you and your community?

For one, as the basketball team has shown, it creates and fosters a sense of unity in an otherwise divisive social climate. Despite, or perhaps because of, the exclusivity of gaining admission to Harvard, there is little to no common identity formed between fellow students. Indeed, in a survey of the graduating class of 2012, only one of the 12 undergraduate houses—Currier—had every student indicate that they felt a strong sense of community and unity within their house.

Part of what makes Harvard great is that it offers such a diverse range of things in which students can invest their time and truly find what they are passionate about. But this sometimes comes at the expense of otherwise common experiences and memories that can be shared by the entire undergraduate population.

One of these common experiences is the Harvard-Yale football game. Regardless of where you come from or where you invest your time, you can collectively rejoice in engaging in the age-old tradition of drinking early in the morning and passing out sometime around the middle of the third quarter—though the last part may have more to do with Harvard’s dominance over Yale in recent years.

But even then there are barriers of entry for much of the Harvard-Yale experience. Not everyone is welcome at every tailgate, nor at every party.

Students continuously lament the lack of common centralized social spaces that are open to everyone in the student body. While these complaints are legitimate, there is an un-tapped social space sitting right across the Charles River.

The student section of a sporting event is one of the least socially stratified places on a college campus. Whether you understand what is happening on the ice or not, the only barrier of entry that exists in a student section is the same one that we all passed not too long ago: being a Harvard student. On a campus that often struggles to make sense of its social life, I encourage everyone to make the trek down to the Bright Hockey Center, and let them hear you. Worst case scenario you get to see some darn good hockey.

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