I grew up in a family and a community where sports often dominated television time and conversation. To an extent, this is true for much of Los Angeles—the seasons can be better defined as football, baseball, and basketball than by the traditional four segments of the year.
My academic calendar generally came second in importance to sports too. The start of the school year meant cheering against USC most Saturdays and watching whatever the big networks broadcasted on Sundays. Spring break was usually the start of a six-month love affair with MLB Extra Innings on DirecTV. “One more inning, Mom” was my version of “the check is in the mail.”
During Olympic season every other year, I plan sleep and meals around the NBC programming. This summer, I had no reservations taking an (occasional) extended lunch to watch a World Cup game, even when I had no vested interest in either team on the field.
As a sportsophile, spending February at Harvard was a culture shock. For the first time, I had friends and peers who didn’t watch the Super Bowl just because they didn’t care. During Winter Olympic viewings in the Weld basement, it was often just a Canadian or two who joined me.
Perhaps because most of the Houses have not been renovated since the Truman administration, we have no cable and, as a consequence, little TV culture. Most of what we watch is done on Hulu or Megavideo. When we do our sports viewing, it’s usually a smattering of loyal fans in a JCR or a crowded dorm room with a projector and an antenna.
But this is not to say that sports culture doesn’t exist here—far from it. At a school with more varsity sports than any other in the country, many of us have either lived with athletes or are, at the very least, casual acquaintances with a few of them.
On any given weekend, you’re likely to see at least four kinds of people on the other side of the Charles. The athletes, of course, are the most visible ones. There is always a loyal group of sports boosters and alumni, often clad in khakis or a button-down. The ones who love sports but haven’t been good enough to play competitively since high school (or sometimes Little League) are the Crimson sportswriters. And the proud parents are pretty easy to pick out.
This isn’t to say, though, that there is sports apathy in the rest of the school’s population. More than 20,000 came for the football team’s season-opening night game. Men’s soccer set an attendance record earlier this year. The Game fills up Harvard Stadium every other Saturday before Thanksgiving.
Harvard sports culture is relatively autumn-centric. My guess is that, more than anything else, it’s a weather thing. Single-digit weather has a way of deterring anyone who lives north of Kirkland from embarking on a 15-minute walk to Allston. Basketball draws both fans and interest, but attendance is certainly lighter (in absolute terms, anyway) than any football game. Spring weather is a wild card—sweatshirt days have lighter attendance, t-shirt days draw bigger crowds.
So, for the time being, the fall remains king. But more and more, this is changing. Harvard takes a lot of pride in its sports successes, as the banner celebrating the 1920 Rose Bowl championship demonstrates. If men’s basketball ever makes it to the Tournament, I would imagine that the school would come down with a case of March Madness as serious as last year’s swine flu outbreak. Last April, the stadium had unprecedented spring activity when Duke visited men’s lacrosse.
As successes and fortunes of Harvard teams change, seasonal interest might as well. Way down the road, when (if) the college builds Houses across the river, the weather and the walk might be less of an impediment.
And who knows, the new Houses might even have cable.
—Staff writer E. Benjamin Samuels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.