Northwestern men's basketball is a program in transition. Head coach Chris Collins brought in several highly touted recruits this season, but they can’t possibly reverse NU's painful history in just one year. The new video boards are a nice touch as well, but there’s only so much lipstick you can put on the pig that is Welsh-Ryan Arena. And then there’s the student section, an issue in a league of its own. On one side, there’s a student section called the WildSide, and on the other, there is a group of students attending a basketball game on the “MildSide,” contributing to our school’s culture of losing in basketball more than most people realize.
Most college basketball players don’t outwardly give a rat’s ass what opposing student sections do during free throws or offensive possessions, but any one of them would admit that the thousand-plus voices telling him that he sucks impacts his in-game psyche. It’s simple sports psychology – players and teams don’t usually perform as well away from home. “Hostile environments” are not just coachspeak - they’re scientific.
Granted, sometimes a team is just head and shoulders better than the ‘Cats, as the Wisconsin Badgers demonstrated on Jan. 4. Even a student section with a pulse behind the south basket was probably not going to change the outcome. But that's not an excuse to idly stand around in silence while you watch your team get trounced. Doing that only makes it easier for the opponent while not doing your duty as a fan to give your own team a home-court advantage.
It’s a quick fix, too! Jump around, scream, put your hands in the air during free throws and have fun. Ask the Purple Joker who lives under the north basket for pointers.
The lack of enthusiasm in the crowd reflects poorly on the basketball program. And who’s constantly judging Northwestern's basketball program? The very recruits that Collins is trying to bring in to turn things around. They don’t want to play games in front of a crowd that doesn’t act like they care, and I don’t blame them.
Northwestern students and alumni love to joke about the basketball program’s historic futility, and it’s understandable. But our fickle fanhood has helped contribute to a losing culture, which, in turn, has kept highly touted local recruits from wanting to play close to home. We can’t just wait until the team gets better to start creating more of a home-court advantage – it’s a two-way street.
This issue is so much more magnified than the nature of the “MildSide” in one home game, or ten home games or ten seasons worth of home games. It’s the byproduct of that losing culture that was created years ago. Collins is doing all he can to dig this program out of a uniquely deep historic hole, and I believe he will be successful, eventually. But he can’t do it all by himself.
All students who attend games must start pulling their weight to create an environment that is conducive to winning, or else Northwestern will struggle to gain the basketball respect it so desperately desires. No matter how many milestones Collins is able to accomplish in spite of his issues with student support, that’s the sad truth.