Bringing the madness north of the border

Alistair Clark
Alistair Clark

Watching the March Madness games over the past week has been inspirational. It is one of the most exciting sports tournaments on the continent, even more amazing because the competitors are students in the same mold as our own varsity athletes. TV clips show crazed fans chanting, cheering and going nuts for their team.

If you’ve gone to Queen’s men’s and women’s basketball games or watched any other major varsity sport this year, you’ve got to start asking, “Why don’t we have the same energetic atmosphere in the stands at our games?”

To be clear, it has nothing to do with the performance or quality of the athletes on our university teams. It’s all about making varsity games something students want to be a part of. I believe it’s irrelevant how good one league is compared to another league, as long as there is close competition between the two teams battling it out in the game. Every NBA team would blow out the winner of March Madness, but that doesn’t make the tournament any less exciting.

So why is the atmosphere at Queen’s varsity sports games so dull? Our university is known for its school spirit and tradition, but rarely translates into a good atmosphere at sports games—Homecoming football and Queen’s-McGill hockey are a few examples, but even these seem to be a little more restrained than they should be.

The problem lies in the application of our students’ spirit and pride into a whole-hearted effort at our varsity team home games. Watching March Madness should open our eyes to what is possible if our student body comes together to support the athletic teams. There are plenty of things we can learn and apply from NCAA sports to improve our athletic program.

To start, Canadian university sports are a great entertainment product. Go watch most varsity sports and you will enjoy and respect the quality of the competition. That is not what needs to be changed. What we need is a campus-wide buzz about varsity games to attract students so they can see the quality for themselves, and create a situation where varsity sports become a key identity of the University.

Right now, most teams get decent attendance, but there’s not a lot of energy. Every NCAA school has their chants, rituals, clapping and songs for the games, and it’s hard to think of any Queen’s has other than the “Oil Thigh,” which seems popular for one week in first year and then kind of disappears. Traditions have to start somewhere, so have a competition where students make chants/cheers and let the fans create a game experience that they want to be a part of. It would be a huge energy boost if we had some kind of organized noise to throw down on visiting university teams. Real pride in the school will come from a feeling of ownership of these traditions and the passing down of them to future years.

We are missing the party atmosphere that is clearly part of NCAA games. People go to sports games to cheer on their school, hang out with friends, and let loose away from academics. Right now everything is so regulated and censored at our sports events that there isn’t a lot of fun involved. We need to let people start acting like the adults they are. Start by serving alcohol at the sports venues. Maybe even make it cheap! Every popular and successful sporting event offers alcohol to their customers, and we are missing out by not doing so. Some people may immediately point out the possible negatives of this situation, but what can beat an afternoon tailgate and a few beers while watching football on a sunny fall Saturday afternoon?

At the end of the day, attending varsity sports games has the potential to be a much better experience than it currently is. We need to hold the NCAA as our ultimate goal in terms of student athletics and implement some of the “best practices” that make their league so successful.

At Queen’s, we have the quality athletes and school spirit needed to develop a varsity game experience that is special for both the athletes and the fans. With the Queen’s Center opening this fall it’s time to take action and create an atmosphere that reflects the excellence of our varsity athletics.

Alistair Clark is the captain of the men’s rugby team.

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