Better Seats for the Better Fans
by Jim Alderson, 2/24/04

Iím sure I have seen worse basketball than last weekend's St. Johnís - Virginia Tech game, but at the moment I canít remember it. St. Johnís came into Cassell in the midst of a season where they have mounted a solid threat to Techís traditional lock on the bottom of the Big East standings. For a good part of the game Tech was up to the challenge and played like a team intent on leaving the BE as they entered, the worst in the conference. Blown lay-ups, shots missed repeatedly from point-blank range, wild passes, a steadfast refusal to play defense, and what looked to be a general indifference to playing the game at all was what Tech brought to the table of what was a very important game in this yearís scheme of things.

The Hokies and Johnnies matched each other lousy play for lousy play, right down to the end when St. Johnís attempted to give the game to Tech via a guard dribbling the ball off his leg only to have Tech try to give it right back through a stunning suspension of knowledge of the rules. You knew in a game like this it would come down to the team that missed last, and that was St. Johnís. I seriously doubt this game is going to show up as an Instant Classic unless there is an ESPN Classic in the Bizarro world. This was not what Dr. Naismith had in mind when he hung up the peach baskets.

Despite all of their in-game foibles, Tech did win the game and went a long way towards securing a date in the opening round of the Big East Tournament. St. Johnís, while proving that if you have several players thrown off the team in the off season, jettison a few more during, fire your coach early in the year and play with an interim one directing a bunch of walk-ons, you can indeed field a worse team than Tech, clinched the bottom of the BE standings. They are welcome to it. Winning ugly certainly beats the alternative.

Techís stated goal this season has been to make the Big East postseason tournament. With the opportunity at hand to go a long way towards accomplishing that aim, it is hard to imagine that Tech came out as unfocused as it did. This was a huge game for both teams, but Tech did not play as if it were. It is often difficult to fathom the motivations of this team or what frequently looks to be the lack of them. One thing is for sure, however, and that is very little impetus and encouragement to perform at a high level is coming from the crowd. Cassell was a tomb.

It canít fill the players with positive feelings for the task at hand to run out of the tunnel onto the Cassell floor and be greeted by thousands of empty seats. They certainly are used to it by now, but still, this is not an environment that fosters maximum effort on the part of the team. As is often the case, Cassell was little more than half full, and the most glaring of the thousands of empty seats were those in the prime locations. These seats are bought and paid for by season-ticket holders, and a large number seem uninterested in receiving any value for the dollars spent. It is the right of the holders of those tickets to attend or not, of course, but they are not doing the team any favors by staying away.

There are many people who bought basketball season tickets this year as futures for the '05 season and beyond, when our new conference opponents will have much more of a regional interest. These folks apparently find the prospect of observing Tech losing to Duke by thirty more appetizing than watching the team lose by the same number to UConn. These are not people who subscribe to Frank Beamerís claim that it should not matter the identity of the opponent, only that Tech is playing. These fans are waiting for next year, when Tech is in the ACC.

It would seem that a great many of those season-ticket holders who did bother to show up are also waiting for next year, too. That was certainly the impression given by those who were there but giving the impression they were posing for a portrait rather than attending a sporting event. Acting more like figures in a wax museum than Tech fans does not exactly foster an atmosphere that will strike terror into the hearts of anybody, much less those teams that play on a regular basis in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Much of this goes back to the old chicken and egg argument about winning teams and strong fan support, and certainly Tech basketball has given fans over the last several years precious little about which to get excited. Still, somebody has to take the first step, and from the looks of things it ainít the fans. Or at least the purchasers of season tickets.

There does seem to be a vocal contingent among Techís skimpy basketball fan base, and they are to be found among the student body. Seth Greenberg has made overtures to the students in attempting to get them involved in his program and has experienced some success. Students are showing up for games in increasing numbers and making some noise for the Hokies. It certainly is not to be mistaken for the support shown its team by the Duke student body in Cameron, but it is a start. The problem is that the students have lousy seats. They are stuck in a corner of Cassell where their impact on a game is minimized. Tech has the dual basketball problem of poor fan support and poor seating for the fan support it has. The solution would seem to be better seats for the better fans.

The storied reputation of Dukeís Cameron Indoor Stadium as a fierce venue for opposing teams is built almost solely on the standing-room only bleachers that line both sides of Coach K Court. They are for the students, and it is festival standing on a first-come, first-served arrangement. Students fight like tigers for the choicest spots in those bleachers, those facing the cameras. If not for the Duke students and the priority they are made by DukeĎs athletics administration, Cameronís upper arena, populated mostly by older people who have owned their seats for a very long time, would create an atmosphere resembling the sedate one at Carolinaís Dean Dome. There the best courtside seats are held by the well-heeled blue hair set who plunked down large amounts of cash for them and hold on to them like grim death. The most noise that comes from them is the sound of the oxygen tanks connected to their inhalers. But they do show up, and pay handsomely for the privilege. Techís season-ticket holders certainly have less reason than Carolinaís to attend games, but the fact remains that many do not. Perhaps it is time for a Ďsince you didnít use it, you lose ití re-shuffling of Cassellís seating.

Techís entry into the ACC would seem an opportune time to move a portion of the student seating from the corner to the first few rows all around Cassell. This would get the loudest constituency of Techís fan base closer to the court where they could do the most good, namely trying to generate some enthusiasm into what is all too often a dead arena. It might not be the situation of the Cameron Crazies at Duke, but it would be a start. If the Tech basketball program is going to be stuck with the recruiting disadvantage of the antiquated Cassell, and they will be for some time, Tech might as well attempt to make the best of it, as Duke has at Cameron. Maximize the amount of noise at courtside.

Certainly such a Cassell seating defrag would cause some consternation, just as the upcoming football one will at Lane. I certainly would not want to be the Athletic Director explaining to some long-time basketball season-ticket holders, many Golden Hokies and above, that their seats are being moved up the arena. But, since I am not the Athletic Director, I wonít have to, only point out that there is a greater good involved.

Had the students, or at least a goodly number of them, been at courtside voicing encouragement last Saturday against St. Johnís, the Tech team might have been motivated to turn in a better effort than that displayed. It certainly would not have hurt. Tech will be entering a very tough situation in the ACC, and they will need all the help they can get. Placing the loudest of Techís fans closer to the action would do just that.

Jim Alderson,
who first made his mark with his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports.  For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.


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