If someone with no familiarity with college football undertook a tour of college campuses during football season, he wouldn't notice much of a difference between IU and the traditional powers until he entered the stadium and wondered how a school with such a strong tailgating culture could possibly play a football game in front of only 30,000 people. Regardless of attendance in the stadium, the pleasant, park-like fields south of 17th Street always are populated with thousands of students, most of whom never enter the stadium for even a down. This was a problem even during the respectability of the mid-Mallory era, but in the 13 years since IU's last bowl bid it has become an epidemic. Every school has its share of front-running fans. Even at schools that always sell out their stadiums, such as Notre Dame and Michigan, tickets are much easier to find during a bad year than in a good year. I've long maintained that bitching about the marketing department, the band, and local merchants is rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. IU's attendance has never been great, but it was way better in the 1987-1992 era than it is today. Just win, baby.
What bothers me about the perpetual tailgaters is that not going to the game has somehow perversely evolved into a point of pride for these students. Take today's IDS article. Again, I'm hesitant to complain about attendance because the main cause of bad attendance is IU's failure to field a competitive team. I don't like to lecture people about how they should spend their free time and their disposable income. Still, if you are a front runner who won't show up until we go 8-4, at least admit what you are. Don't do what Sarah Stonehouse did:
Senior Sarah Stonehouse said she requests off work on Saturdays so she won’t miss the tailgate.“It’s really important to tailgate and support IU’s football team,” Stonehouse said. “We’re here for a reason. The football players all know even if we’re not in the stadium there are like a thousand people outside supporting them.”Many students who don’t attend the game say they still root the team to victory regardless of where they are.“We’re all here to support Indiana, if you go to the game or not,” said freshman Logan Engels.
What utter bullshit, Sarah Stonehouse and Logan Engels. In what way are you supporting the Hoosiers by bonging beers in a field while a football game transpires a block away? Financially, by purchasing student tickets? By making noise while the other team is on offense? By sticking around until the end and singing Indiana, Our Indiana with the team? By audibly encouraging the team during the game? By packing the stadium and thereby allowing the AD to take a good aerial photo of the stadium other than when Ohio State brings 25,000 fans? By creating a spirited student section that will encourage the recruits who are visiting campus to sign with IU? None of those, obviously. To the contrary, the perpetual tailgaters, by their mere existence, personify indifference. If IU is going to draw 30,000, I would rather draw only 30,000 fans to the stadium instead of drawing 30,000 spectators and another 15,000 people who can't be troubled to walk across the street. Anyone who has watched IU football on TV knows that rather than support, these people bring ridicule upon our university and football program. The most famous example was a couple of years ago, when a national telecast showed a tailgate party with a bunch of people outside a half-full stadium. They were huddled around a TV watching a different game. Yeah, that's "support."
Again, I'm not telling anyone what to do. If you want to support the team, support the team. If you don't want to, don't. But be honest. If you are going to stand in a parking lot getting drunk while the football team fights for the glory of old IU, don't insult their or our intelligence by claiming that tailgating sans game attendance is school spirit. Even if you are wearing an IU T-shirt, it isn't.