Widgets Magazine

Bennett-Smith: Poor crowd attendance at Stanford athletic events is inexcusable

As a Stanford student, it’s pretty hard to complain very much.

I go to a top-notch school that gives me a scholarship, access to great professors and facilities and doesn’t make me wait by the computer at 12:01 to pray I can get into maybe my third- or fourth-choice classes—unless it’s spring quarter wine tasting.

The people are mostly great. The weather is awesome. I mean, besides the ridiculous sticker price that is inescapable at private schools these days, it’s hard to go wrong.

Now I know that I have a pretty laid-back personality and I rarely get too high or too low. But when it comes to sports, I make a few exceptions. And at the risk of sounding exactly like the snobbish rich kid complaining about minutiae that I spent three paragraphs trying to avoid, Stanford has got to be better when it comes to our attendance at sporting events.

When I sat down to write this, I was mostly upset because I had just watched Stanford football slog through four quarters of a game that it should have dominated and escaped by the skin of its not-so-threatening teeth.

But I was one of a select few in Stanford Stadium on Saturday. The announced attendance was somewhere around 41,000, but I’d take a good guess that no more than 20,000 people walked through the gates at any point during the game.

Students, the Red Zone was pretty filled to start the game. Yay. But then it thinned, and thinned some more, just as Washington State started to come back and turn it into a pretty hectic final 15 minutes.

That shouldn’t happen just because our team isn’t the most exciting brand of Pac-12 football, with the Marqise Lees and the spread offenses. And it shouldn’t happen because there is no Andrew Luck. And it shouldn’t happen because Washington State is winless in conference play.

Because I was at the game when San Jose State came to the Farm, and there were a lot more than 20,000 people on hand for that humdinger of an opponent. And I was at the game when Duke was in town, and the Blue Devils are a heck of a more unattractive opponent then any Pac-12 matchup.

Worst of all, those games were before school even was in session!

I was ashamed to sit in the press box and listen to the reporters all but openly mocking Stanford and its fans for an abysmal showing in the stands two weeks ago against Arizona. That game was supposed to be our Homecoming, and even if it was an early kickoff, how could we not have the stands at least three-quarters filled for what turned out to be a very exciting game that went to overtime?

I get that we lost to Washington and that really was a drag. And the loss to Notre Dame was definitely heartbreaking and we kind of got robbed, no question about it. But just because we haven’t met the sky-high expectations that Luck and company put in place does not mean that I don’t expect people to come out and watch.

The team is still good, like really good. If you haven’t noticed, we are knocking on the door of the top 10 in the BCS once again, and we actually control our own destiny in the Pac-12 title race with a clear path to the Rose Bowl. Sure, it’s unlikely because we have to beat Oregon and Oregon State, but wasn’t that the exact same scenario that presented itself last season, and didn’t we expect to lose to USC earlier in the year?

I want to feel the same way I did looking out on a packed Stanford Stadium going nuts after the Trojans fell, even if it’s unreasonable to expect that there aren’t at least a few butts missing from the seats. But 30,000 empty chairs and a noise level so low that Washington State’s fans were louder than we were at one point and I could hear some of the quarterback’s calls from the press box? Stop it.

The problem is not that I can’t enjoy the games when there aren’t fans in the stands, because it really doesn’t affect me. But when the television broadcast can’t pan over the crowd and resorts to the same two sections of fans for every one of its cutaways, it reflects poorly on our entire community as fans.

The pundits love to talk about how smart the students at Stanford are, particularly when the baseball team or basketball team is traveling and seen studying—gasp—for a final a few hours before a game.

But they also love to talk about how the Stanford culture is different and doesn’t have anywhere near the same kind of respect and love for the game that the SEC or Big 10 or pretty much any other region of the country does.

That bugs me. Because last night I watched the No. 1 women’s soccer team score twice in two minutes to put UCLA in its place and win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 crown. They haven’t lost a conference match in 41 games.

The game was in L.A., so I wasn’t there and mostly likely neither were you, but I know the attendance was over 4,000, and when I watched the team knock off Washington at home for Senior Night last weekend, there were definitely some empty seats.

Just like I know that there was plenty of room in the stands for viewers to spread out when the No. 2 women’s volleyball team swept past Arizona State for its 18th win in a row and 12th consecutive Pac-12 victory.

That kind of dominance and excellence deserves to be experienced and rewarded by Stanford fans near and far. And when basketball season gets into gear, I don’t want to look into the rafters to see line after line of empty rows and a Sixth Man section half-filled with students sitting down.

I know that all of us are prideful beings, and many of us don’t care for sports at all. More power to you. There are plenty of Stanford fans out there that are missing the boat with these games, however. How lucky are we, Class of 2013, that we have never seen USC triumph over the Cardinal on the gridiron, have had a national championship to celebrate every year and have gotten get to soak up the attention that Andrew Luck, Jim Harbaugh and being good has brought to the University as a whole?

We are a lucky brand of people at Stanford, for innumerable different reasons.

But for that reason you must take pride in what you do, if what you do is like Stanford athletics.

If you were heading to AT&T Park for the World Series, Miles Bennett-Smith gives you a free pass for missing Wazzu. But he looked at StubHub and it was $600 a pop for standing-room-only tickets…Email him your excuse for missing everything else at milesbs@stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @SmilesBSmith.

About Miles Bennett-Smith

Miles Bennett-Smith is Chief Operating Officer at The Daily. An avid sports fan from Penryn, Calif., Miles graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor's degree in American Studies. He has previously served as the Editor in Chief and President at The Daily. He has also worked as a reporter for The Sacramento Bee. Email him at eic@stanforddaily.com
  • 90’s Alum

    I saw the womens soccer game against Ucla on the Pac 12 Network. It didn’t look like 4000, but it was definitely a large, hyped crowd. As for the ‘spirit’ amongst current Stanford students, I would blame the admissions dept. and the type of students being admitted. Past admissions staff selected very well-rounded classes, perhaps that is not so today where the emphasis is on a certain type of academic student. I was a student during the early 1990s when the 6th Man Club was formed and quickly gained an intimidating status within the conference. And we still found time to excel academically and help usher in start-ups.

  • GS

    Why should students care so much about sports? People are busy and they have different interests. Not a problem. And I say this as someone who probably attends more sporting events than 90% of the student population.

  • Vad

    Replace Nunes…

  • jowl


  • Recent Alum

    It’s exactly this type of attitude I don’t understand. Yes, Stanford students are all busy and have different interests. But do we really need the stand-off-ish approach to sports? How would an a cappella group feel if I said: “why should I care about you singing? I’m busy and I have different interests, so I can care less about your concert.”

    You don’t have to be a die-hard fan, and the author isn’t saying that Stanford students should act that way or become as rabid as SEC fans. The reality is that athletics are an integral part of Stanford, evidenced by the fact that the university has elite programs in most sports – NOT just in football. Crowd attendance/participation just so happens to be crucial for athletics, and students should come out and support their peers playing football, basketball, soccer, water polo, you name it. Just like people roll out to support a cappella groups, dance groups, acting crews, etc.

    This “why-should-I-care-about-sports” attitude is not Stanford. I expect such a comment to come from someone at Harvard or Princeton, but not Stanford. If you’re too busy to take 3-4 hours on a Saturday to support your peers, then you’re taking yourself way too seriously, which is definitely not Stanford at all.

  • GS

    I’m sure the a cappella group would understand that going to their shows isn’t your thing, and they probably wouldn’t think that you should feel obligated to do so. There’s also nothing particularly special about sports at Stanford versus anything else going on at Stanford. Why don’t we have editorials talking about attendance at arts shows, lectures, concerts, or even club sports? I don’t understand the attitude that people need to be into sports. If we want to say that they should just be into anything Stanford, then we would still need to recognize that they are going to have different priorities, and there’s absolutely no reason why they should support Stanford sports more than any other Stanford endeavors.

    And the person who chooses not to stand around for 3-4 hours watching a sport they have no interest in and instead goes backpacking with their friends or attends a music festival is taking themselves too seriously? There is more than one way to live your life.

  • HT

    I’d like to add that the a capella comparison is ridiculous. At a typical student concert, there are several tens to — occasionally — a few hundred students. Many of the typical audience are friends of the performers. That’s great: friends supporting friends; a small group of people enjoying the artistry of their peers.

    In contrast, this editorial argues that a minimum of 20,000 spectators is somehow not enough for football. I’m pretty sure 20,000 is not just friends supporting friends. I think it might have a lot more to do with commercialism and stuff like that. I for one care what ESPN thinks of the general Stanford student’s commitment to watching commercialized sports only to the extent that I think it’s wrong that ESPN has anything at all to do with collegiate sports.