By Jesse Keipp
The nation’s best college football programs are inextricably tied to passionate home crowds, filled stadiums, and exciting stadium traditions. The University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane football program unfortunately lacks all three. Asking if a passionately stuffed stadium or if a winning program comes first may be as unanswerable as, “which came first: the chicken or the egg?” Nonetheless, there can be several steps taken to excite the fans at H.A. Chapman Stadium.
Attendance at TU football games is among the worst in Division I FBS. In 2013, Tulsa averaged 19,893 fans in attendance. On the year, TU totaled 119,356 fans, barely surpassing the University of Michigan’s average attendance for one game. Granted, Tulsa obviously doesn’t have the history of Big Blue, nor UM’s tens of thousands of students.
To be fair, we can compare TU attendance figures to those of both C-USA and the AAC. Tulsa just finished its last year in Conference USA, which boasted an average attendance of 21,510. This figure sits slightly above Tulsa’s average. However, TU looks to move into the more competitive American Athletic Conference for next year. The more competitive conference boasted an average attendance of 33,712, a number larger than Chapman’s maximum capacity. How will Golden Hurricane football compete when its fanbase can’t?
Unfortunately, TU competes with perennial football powerhouses Oklahoma State and Oklahoma University for the affection of Oklahomans. However, the city of Tulsa boasts a passionate football fanbase which should spill over into Chapman Stadium on game days. Tulsa ranked fifth in viewership nationally for Super Bowl XLVIII. TU should draw these passionate football fans to Chapman on fall Saturdays.
Nothing places butts in the seats better than winning football teams, but planners must do a better job of making TU football games fun. Games at the Chap are void of many traditions to arouse the crowd. One popular tradition among the students is to wave their arms above their heads as the hurricane siren sounds after a TU touchdown. But more needs to be done to involve and draw crowds.
Some teams blast songs over the loudspeakers to pump up fans and students. Before every kickoff, Notre Dame plays the Dropkick Murphys’ “Shipping off to Boston” to rock the stadium. As the players run onto the field, Clemson psychs up the crowd with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” Why can’t Tulsa sound off “Rock You Like a Hurricane” or some other ballad to rile up fans at the beginning of the game? Whatever the song is, it must be repeated, game after game, in order to form a tradition. Why not play the song before every kickoff? This song must become so ingrained into the very fabric of Golden Hurricane football that, when fans hear it at a bar or a party, they’re immediately taken back to the Chap.
Other than the aforementioned hurricane siren, arm waving, students have little involvement in cheers or traditions. At Notre Dame, students do “push-ups” for every point scored by throwing fellow students upward in a harmonic, crowd-surfing motion. Students also pump their arms to the beat of songs played by the band. And, during key defensive stands, they rhythmically yell “Kill!” as the band plays Darth Vader’s theme.
Students at the University of Florida do the iconic “Gator Chomp,” while their neighbors at Florida State do the famous “Tomahawk Chop.” Hand gestures are a great way of getting the student body involved. Because of TU’s small student body, the school actually has an advantage in organizing the student body.
A school’s fight song should make even the student body’s worst singer burst into song like Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music.” Most TU students, myself included, don’t know the lyrics to the school’s fight song. This could be easily ratified by posting the lyrics onto the jumbotron or by giving out lyric cards to students. Or, to save money and paper, students could have the fight song texted to them by texting a number posted on the big screen.
The University of Tulsa has tried to start a tradition of singing the Alma Mater at the end of games, a tradition employed by a few other schools around the country. However, by the time the song begins, most students and alumni have already fled the scene. This could be partially ratified by playing the song sooner, instead of waiting for a few minutes after most fans have left. Furthermore, coaches and players must join in. If the players and coaches sing, fans find it easier to join themselves and feel appreciated.
One of my favorite TU basketball halftime gigs is the little kids playing basketball. It’s the perfect combination of hilarious and adorable, evoking raucous cheering and laughter from the crowd. After the band plays, why not toss two Pee-Wee football teams onto the field? The little kids would love the opportunity to play on a college field, and the fans would love to cheer them on.
As a St. Louis Rams fan, I’ve begrudgingly gone to countless futile games. However, without fail, fans always love one part of the game: the “find the ball” game, where fans have to track a ball placed under one of three ruthlessly spinning helmets. Chapman Stadium has a beautiful, giant video screen on its south end. Why not utilize Mr. and Mrs. Chapman’s gift with a “find the ball” game?
Leading up to game weekends, the campus should reek of college football. Posters and flags around campus should display that gameday is near. A giant banner proclaiming, “GO CANE” could drape over the side of LaFortune House or Kep, impossible for anyone to miss. There needs to be a buzz around campus about Golden Hurricane football, and it needs to be unavoidable.
Lastly, I’m surprised that TU doesn’t ever hold any pep rallies before big sporting events. Nothing gets a student body more excited than a rally, permeated with exciting speeches by the head coach, key players, and notable alumni. There’s no shortage of money for free food at events. So why not attract students with loads of publicity and free grub?
Additionally, pep rallies have the ability to enamor incoming freshmen with Tulsa football. Pep rallies show the student body that the thing on campus on fall Saturdays is Tulsa football.
Gamedays and Chapman Stadium should become such an integral part of the University of Tulsa experience that fans routinely look forward to football gamedays and affectionately refer to the venue as “the Chap.” Football games are to college what apple pie is to America. So let’s make Golden Hurricane football games one extraordinarily delicious slice of apple pie.