It’s no secret that GW is lacking in the school spirit that’s often displayed by its peer schools and conference rivals. The men’s basketball team is most known throughout the student body, but there are many sports where our teams perform even better that students rarely support. This is indicative of a systemic problem within the University where both students and administrators haven’t given athletics the attention it deserves.
While men’s basketball – the flagship sport at GW – deserves attention from students, there are other successful athletic programs that often get forgotten. Athletics serve as the public face of many universities, and on that front – GW lags behind. Students and the University must do better to support all of our athletic programs in order to create exposure for GW and a sense of community for students.
When I first entered the Smith Center as a freshman to watch men’s basketball take on Howard University in November, I had low expectations. I knew GW’s lack of school pride was a running joke, but over the course of the game, I realized it was a harsh reality. The half-filled student section, empty stands and lack of spirit left me feeling underwhelmed. This experience was mirrored at several games I attended this season for women’s basketball and women’s soccer. Although A-10 conference rivals like Dayton and Virginia Commonwealth universities rank within the top 100 schools in game attendance, GW lags far behind. Part of that comes down to the atmosphere the fans create, and part of it falls on the University.
The University should recognize that there are students at GW looking to use sports to build a community.
As students, we should build a community around athletics. GW’s general lack of pride can be solved by using athletic events as an area to come together. And it’s bigger than basketball. GW’s women’s gymnastics team is ranked 18th in the country and just had a meet at the Smith Center, women’s basketball just won the A-10 with a ticket to the NCAA tournament and our men’s squash team just won the Hoehn Cup. We can rally around these teams to help build the community that GW sorely lacks. The Colonial Army already works hard to try to build up spirit and interest in University sports, but it’s also on other students and the University to do this.
Furthermore, GW must make attending athletic events more enticing to students. Within the Smith Center, there is only one concession stand, which isn’t enough for even GW’s small attendance. Improving the environment of all home games is a must if GW cares about student attendance. Lastly, the University should encourage attendance for all sports. While it may not be a direct effect, having an environment where students come to games often helps lead to better recruits across multiple sports to a school. Nobody wants to play in an empty arena. Further, if teams perform better, the University gains national attention, airtime and free advertising. In order to encourage attendance, GW should incentivize students with prizes for attendance to all sporting events – not just men’s basketball – by offering more free food or t-shirts. Such an effort would also make students more aware of big games. This means more emails, more effort to create school pride and more promotion of events like Colonial Madness or the lesser-known sports.
GW is a highly ranked academic institution, but the University lacks national exposure. While ranked 56 on the US News and World Report, GW often fails to appear on rankings of reputation or brand recognition. Athletics is one way to gain that exposure. Some students may not be interested in sports, but we all have a vested interest in our own degrees. Increased national exposure through athletics can lead to a GW degree being more recognizable to employers. It could also have an impact on our acceptance rate. The more exposure GW has on a national stage, the more applicants the University would get. For example, men’s March Madness success for Lehigh, Florida Gulf Coast and Wichita State universities were each followed by application increases of about 30 percent. Current Oregon State Athletic Director and former Utah State University Athletic Director Scott Barnes famously said, “Athletics are the front porch of the university. It’s not the most important room in the house, but it is the most visible.”
Students and administrators at the University should make more of an effort to increase attendance across all sports.
But most importantly, the University should recognize that there are students at GW looking to use sports to build a community. While many students attracted to GW don’t want the experience of a large state school that prides itself on athletics, there is still a significant portion of the student body that does want to feel that school pride – including me. Some students at GW use student organizations and internships to find their community, but many others have expressed that they wish GW had a community based on athletics.
Students and administrators at the University should make more of an effort to increase attendance across all sports. Having a community at GW would be a selling point, and something that could both increase applicants and alumni donations by giving alumni a stronger connection to the University. Improving our school spirit through athletics is a route to improving our University as a whole, and the student body must work hand in hand with the University to do so.
Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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