Fan interest depends on team’s performance

Basketball Preview Issue

Call it a case of the fair-weather fans.

When the GW men’s basketball team was flying high in the 2005-2006 season, students were proud to call themselves Colonials fans. Talk of college basketball permeated conversations and classrooms. The 2005 Colonial Invasion, featuring the Harlem Globetrotters, drew 3,500 fans to celebrate the illustrious season that was to come. Last year’s Invasion, headlined by the rapper Fabolous, drew more than 2,000 attendees.

But every year, as the rankings drop, so does the fan turnout. After all, it’s in tough times that one discovers true friends. This year, due in part to the University’s decision not to feature a headlining artist, the 2008 Colonial Invasion drew only 973 attendees, less than a third of the crowd of only three years ago.

And unfortunately for last year’s team, it inched ever closer to irrelevancy in student life with every loss.

“The tide is changing; the team is very different compared to what it was a few years ago with Pops (Mensah-Bonsu), when people were just excited about the players on that team,” said Victor Danau, co-president of the Colonial Army, of the leader of the 2005-2006 squad and his teammates. “I think it has a lot to do with the energy that the team is putting in. Some people got turned off last year at the end of the season when the team started hemorrhaging players, along with disappointing results.”

The Colonial Army, GW’s best stab at school spirit, may be basketball fans’ biggest hope. The Army hasn’t been as prominent since it lost its claim on the Smith Center’s front rows two years ago, but Danau said the group has plans to increase interest, including a meet-the-players event for members.

However, raising interest will likely be a tough sell. The Colonials play an uninspiring schedule against several lowly out-of-conference opponents and only 12 home games. This season may not be the year GW basketball makes a comeback – at least among the fans. Basketball fan Chase Carpenter, a senior who can be seen at nearly every game played in the Smith Center, said it will take national attention to get students to show up.

“It’s like on (election) night, when everyone went to the White House,” Carpenter said. “There were people there that weren’t even Obama supporters. They just wanted to be a part of winning.”

A large part of it may not be the fault of the team. With only the senior class old enough to remember when GW was on top, the general school spirit malaise may have more to do with campus-wide apathy than the team’s record.

“(GW’s school spirit) is not as good as other colleges, but I think everyone knows that,” said senior Arthur Lee, who was one of the few to attend this year’s Colonials Invasion.

Danau agrees the nontraditional sports setup – no football and no lavish sports center (pending Smith Center renovations) – is an obstacle to building a fan base for GW sports.

“I think that it’s especially tough at a school like GW,” he said. “We’re not a traditional college setting, in terms of sports: We don’t have the football team, we don’t have the people that come here just for sports, so it’s always an uphill battle for sports enthusiasm.”

But what it all comes down to, he said, is the team itself. Once they start caring again, so will the fans.

“If you’re just winning the games, it’s like yeah, okay, they’re winning, but when they have fun and when it’s exciting, and your heart beats, that’s what makes basketball fun,” Danau said. “And when GW brings that back like we had two years ago, then I think everybody will start coming back to the Smith Center.”

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