If you build it, will they care?

Staff writer debates the positives and negatives of the revitalized Richardson Stadium

Spencer Belyea contemplates student support for the Queen’s football program.
Spencer Belyea contemplates student support for the Queen’s football program.

Saturday, September 17 was a day 45 years in the making. Until just under a year ago when work began on the revitalization, Richardson Stadium had been the unchanged home of Gaels athletics since constructed in 1971.

This past weekend, all the hype surrounding the newly refurbished stadium came to fruition as the Gaels football team took on their rivals, the Western Mustangs.

Though the Gaels lost the game, from a purely bricks-and-mortar perspective, the new stadium is a resounding success. 

It feels a lot like the old stadium, but just improved in all facets. While it’s impossible to compare it to larger college football stadiums in the USA, Queen’s Athletics’ revitalization project places the University at the centre of Canadian college football.

But a shiny new stadium doesn’t fix all ailments. 

Unfortunately, many of the problems that plagued Queen’s Athletics before still exist. As the grand-opening game approached, I had hoped that the new stadium would be the catalyst for overhauling student apathy when it came to university sports — especially football.

This was the chance to hit the reset button — to use a time of natural excitement and interest as the jumping-off point to re-engage large swathes of the student population and make athletics matter at Queen’s.  

As a student body, our support and engagement with our teams has been disappointing.

Looking back at the last home playoff football game in 2013, the student section wasn’t even half full. 

That all could’ve changed this year, but unfortunately — yet unsurprisingly — it hasn’t.

At least the students showed up, and I guess that’s half the battle.  We filled the 300-plus seat section that was allocated to us, plus a good portion of the endzone seats.  But while students made an appearance visually, that was the only way you could tell we were there at all.  

One of the hallmarks of any sporting event is the passion, intensity and spirit that the fans bring. In the NCAA, 62.8 per cent of home teams win their games, with coaches and players attributing that to the home-field advantage their student sections provide, as they simultaneously give an emotional boost to their team while making it difficult for the opposing team to focus. 

Despite our claims as a spirited and proud school, this sentiment disappears at sporting events.  Any attempts to start basic chants on Saturday quickly fizzled out, and there were only short bursts of applause after good plays.  

The atmosphere and excitement matched the weather — dreary and dull.

I enjoyed myself because I like to watch football, but Richardson should be a fun place to be on a game day because of the atmosphere — regardless of the product on the field.  

That being said, students shouldn’t shoulder all the blame for the less-than-ideal game experience. We’re relegated to one of the worst sections in the stadium, hidden in the corner with poor sightlines to the rest of the field.  

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer as to why students don’t seem to care about Queen’s football. I’m tempted to say it’s about the product on the field, as Queen’s hasn’t had a competitive team on a provincial level since 2013 — but even when we hosted a playoff game, no one showed up. 

Some might say it’s because of drinking regulations, but not being able to drink at the stadium shouldn’t be an issue — you can’t in the United States, and they don’t have any issues with spirit.  

And as much as I think it was a mistake by the University to take away or limit many of our great traditions with how the new stadium was designed — like Queen’s Bands or the homecoming halftime parade — student apathy seems to be one of the features that was preserved from Richardson prior to the revitalization.

It’s telling that the equivalent sections on the other side of the stadium were virtually empty, making it clear that we were placed where we were as a cash grab for the highly priced midfield seats. It’s disappointing that making a few dollars was prioritized over the experience of both the students in the stands and on the field.  

All that aside, I think the problem is in the culture that currently exists on campus. Going to football games, or caring about how the team does, just doesn’t matter to students. In the list of things students generally care about, it just doesn’t seem to make the cut.

So, after one game, what’s the verdict? Well, the stadium is great — but those who fill it, especially us students, can do better. Showing up is half the battle, but that alone doesn’t win you the game. 

Vocal, enthusiastic, and continued support is what’s needed to really make Richardson Stadium a success, so let’s support our fellow students on the field and show that we have as much spirit and passion as we claim we do.

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