Free pizza, t-shirts and Coca-Cola products have not been enough to draw students to Brown Stadium for football games, save for the annual Family Weekend contest and the highly-anticipated rivalry against Harvard. Throughout the rest of the season, the bleachers remain mostly empty, aside from devoted parents and a handful of undergraduates who leave campus to support friends.
The poor student attendance at Brown athletic events is consistent with the results of The Herald’s 2018 Fall Poll. While 79 percent of varsity athletes considered athletics to be at least somewhat important to the Brown community, just 42 percent of non-athletes shared this sentiment. Thirty-one percent of respondents who are non-athletes consider athletics to be somewhat unimportant to the community and 15.3 percent felt they were very unimportant.
Both athletes and non-athletes who were asked about the poll were not surprised by the results. While athletes equated the measure of importance with the community service their teams participate in, camaraderie built among teammates and the potential of their sports to bring the Brown community together, multiple student sources felt that the general student body associated importance with success in terms of wins and losses.
The divide in perspective between athletes and non-athletes is not unfamiliar to members of varsity teams that frequently lack broad student support. Field hockey co-captain Katie Hammaker ’19 noted that most of the fans in the stands are student-athletes who play on other teams. Claire Harrison ’20 pointed out that Brown excels in sports that don’t typically draw large crowds, such as crew.
The gymnastics team “is ranked (nationally) in the 50s,” said Julia Green ’19, the team’s co-captain. “If we were ranked in the 30s, we would get just as many people. For the more obscure sports, I don’t think (success) matters.”
“That’s just not the culture of this school,” she added.
But both athletes and non-athletes recognized that victories alone may not be enough to generate student enthusiasm.
“Everybody wants to go see a winning team,” Hammaker said. “If we did win, there would be more support, but you’ll always have those people who just don’t enjoy sports, don’t want to go watch sports ever — whether they win or whether they don’t win. (Winning) might help a little, but it wouldn’t completely alleviate the problem.”
Maddie Griswold ’21 hypothesized that a major sports team would have to perform exceptionally well to “change the culture” at Brown to one that is more invested in athletics. As a co-manager of the men’s lacrosse team and an editor for Brown Sports Convos, a club that publishes online content focused on professional sports teams, Griswold has noticed that even Brown students who enjoy watching sports casually aren’t especially interested in the Bears.
“In coming to Brown, I knew what I was giving up,” she said. “I knew that I was prioritizing top-notch academics over (a big sports culture).”
Though the Ivy League started as an athletic conference, Brown students no longer feel a strong connection to that part of the college experience. Brian Solomon ’19 has never attended a sporting event at Brown and does not consider athletics important to the community.
“I have no need to watch Brown play Columbia (in football) and lose,” Solomon said. “That just sounds like a really boring game.”
Regardless of on-field performance, athletes identified the social aspect of athletic events as a potential draw for students.
“The most exciting thing at the football game isn’t getting a first down on a third-and-long,” said quarterback Michael McGovern ’21. “The most exciting part is being there, because the environment is fun to be in. Everybody that you’re with is on the same team. You’re all rooting for the same thing.”
Football co-captain Michael Hoecht ’20 shared his teammate’s view of games as a way to bring students together into one community. But non-athletes didn’t view sporting events as social gatherings — none of the students interviewed recalled attending games solely to spend time with friends or meet new people.