By Sean McKnight, Sports Editor
This year was easily one of the most exciting in Stetson’s long athletic history. Most notably we saw Stetson’s first football game since 1956, a dominating season by the women’s basketball team, and a story-like turnaround for the volleyball squad. It’s clear that the Department of Athletics stepped up its game on the court this year, but off the court left something to desire in terms of supporting all aspects of Stetson athletics.
This administration understands the potential benefits of a sports program. A strong program can unite a college campus while a weak one can literally unravel it. In addition, it’s an incredible marketing tool. I’ve been able to speak candidly with Stetson Athletics officials and student athletes in the last year, and it’s painstakingly obvious that we need more student and alumni support at our sporting events.
The administration did an absolutely fantastic job of rallying almost 32,000 fans to attend last semester’s football games, most of which took place in the sweltering, mid-afternoon Florida heat. However, I feel as though the marketing campaign for Stetson athletics stopped there.
Being an avid–some would even say rabid–fan of college football, I was beyond ecstatic to attend my first real college football game as a student. However, being Sports Editor of this fine newspaper, I feel as though the university could have done a better job of motivating students to attend home games for all of our teams, not just football.
If the university improved its athletic marketing efforts to current students, then I think you can expect more students to turn out for games. I’ve come across many students who feel as though Stetson does not do everything in its power to promote home sporting events.
However, there are a few individuals who deserve recognition for their efforts in getting students to attend games. One of those people is Corey Williams, head coach of the men’s basketball team. He directly reached out to the students and was able to increase attendance of men’s and women’s basketball games. Although I feel like the student body has the ability to pack the Edmund’s Center to capacity, it was still reassuring to see a small spike in attendance of these games.
Although the football team had its challenges this past season, it has definitely given way for the creation of many Stetson traditions, one being the Varsity Club. This small group of students also deserves recognition for its work to create and maintain future athletic traditions for future Hatters. Jeff Altier, athletic director, really made Stetson football into a source of camaraderie for students and alumni. Nobody should downplay the positive impact that football had on our school spirit. However, when football season ended, it seemed as though marketing for all other athletic home games followed suit.
From discounted football game tickets, to lax tailgate policies and free tickets at every other varsity sporting event, students have plenty of opportunities to attend sporting events here on campus and enjoy themselves. However, the issue comes down to whether or not students buy into Stetson athletics.
There are loyal fans here on campus, but not nearly enough to spearhead an effort and motivate their peers to attend games. That responsibility comes down to the university. If Stetson really wants its athletics thrive, not just survive, then it needs to put more conscious effort into marketing athletic programs. There must be ebb and flow between the student population and the administration when it comes to motivating students to attend home games in the future.
There’s no easy way to go about getting more student support at games. However, one step to better marketing of all sports is for coaches to do interviews with The Reporter. One might think that coaches would be eager to speak to student media at their university, however this is not the case for Stetson’s athletic coaches on the whole. It’s understandable that a coaching schedule is busier than most. The problem is that most interview requests by The Reporter go unanswered, even when there’s ample time to respond.
This special edition of The Reporter discusses Stetson’s future, in particular the role of the newest strategic map draft. In this draft, there’s a goal about fostering the idea of “one Stetson” across all of its campuses, but I think this goal also applies to the athletics. I don’t see how the university can say it’s pushing for “one Stetson” when coaches and staff are unwilling to sit down and talk to The Reporter, but consistently speak with reporters from other news outlets. We’re on the same team and part of the same Stetson.
All in all, I do not believe Stetson ignores its athletics programs and I know that those in charge are trying to improve upon an already sound foundation. What I think the university must understand is how lucrative athletics in general can be for the university. When they figure that out, I think we’ll really be a potential athletic powerhouse.