During my junior year of high school, when I began researching prospective colleges and universities, my list of requirements was simple: a school on the east coast, small-midsize campus, walkable, with some other attributes as well. School spirit was definitely not in the top five of my priorities, probably not even top ten.
But, now after three years of college, I find myself wishing that at Fairfield there was more of a presence of school spirit surrounding the University’s athletics.
I don’t deny that all over campus people have pride in attending Fairfield. Alumni and current students alike show their dedication to the school in fundraisers held, a commitment to networking with fellow Stags and repping school gear. However, when it comes to sports, that spirit is not as universal.
Sacred Heart University, also located in Fairfield, has more athletic school spirit than our University, but I’m not sure the sole reason is just because SHU has a football team and we don’t.
If you look at each University’s website, the images displayed are entirely different. Fairfield’s displayed images are all student-centered and show people walking around campus and laughing with friends. While SHU displays its basketball and ice hockey teams, among other photos.
Prospective students looking for a University with a strong athletically-driven school spirit will obviously be more enticed to consider SHU over Fairfield University if a school that values athletics is a must-have requirement for their college. Fairfield does not do enough to market itself as a University with strong athletic school spirit whereas it seems that SHU tries to show that its school spirit is fostered in its athletics.
Because Fairfield does not market itself heavily as a school centered around athletics, the students who apply and then attend the University may not be bothered by the lack of athletic school spirit across campus.
In addition to this, it definitely does not help that the basketball teams don’t play on campus while the new arena is being built.
Even before the construction of the new Convocation Center, some home games were still played off-campus at Webster Bank Arena in nearby Bridgeport, Conn. — around a ten-minute drive from campus. Though buses were provided, not having a game on-campus can be a major deterrent for attendees.
This goes for hockey, too.
Fairfield does not have a Division I hockey team but does have a pretty good club team that competes in Division III of the Collegiate Hockey Federation. There is no ice rink on-campus, so people have to travel off campus if they want to see a game. Home games for the hockey team are played in Shelton, Conn. — about a 20-minute drive from campus.
Though the hockey games are often packed with fans, many of them are friends of the people on the team. Further, a lot of the fans tend to be upperclassmen which might be attributed to the fact that upperclassmen have the capability to drive themselves to the games. The University only allows students to have cars on campus starting their junior year, so any underclassmen interested in attending would need to Uber to the games. While this might be feasible every once in a while, it can become costly and is inconvenient to students.
Speaking from personal experience, more often than not, students attending sporting events are there because they have friends on the team, not because they just wanted to go see a game. It’s not like Fairfield doesn’t have teams who consistently perform well — the field hockey, women’s swimming and diving team, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s lacrosse and both men’s and women’s soccer usually have strong finishes in their seasons.
So, we can’t attribute the lack of athletic spirit due to there being no “good” teams on campus.
It could have something to do with the fact that many of the high-performing teams are women’s teams and commonly, women’s sports teams suffer from lower attendance numbers compared to their male counterparts.
In an article written by Sara Swann of The Daily Orange, Syracuse University’s student newspaper, this very topic was explored.
Swann wrote that Syracuse University Newhouse School of Communication Dean Lorraine Branham said that “she thinks women’s sports are typically seen as ‘second-class’ in comparison to men’s sports.”
This year, the women’s volleyball team made it to the NCAA Tournament. However, the buzz across campus was dull and did not match the excitement of the momentous occasion.
But last year, when Fairfield’s baseball team had a Cinderella-story season, you couldn’t walk around campus without hearing people talking about the impressive season and stats from the baseball players. At almost every home game, students rallied around the stadium to watch and cheer on the players, diverging from the typical friends-only in attendance.
The difference in attitudes felt towards male versus female sports might provide some explanation for the lack of turnout and spirit surrounding the women’s teams at the University, but does not directly address the overall low dedication and low morale in regards to Fairfield’s athletics.
It is so interesting that Fairfield Preparatory School, the all-boys preparatory located on the campus of Fairfield University, has no trouble packing Rafferty Stadium for their football games. Walking up to the townhouses on a night where Prep has a football game, you can see Rafferty more packed than I have ever seen for any lacrosse game.
Of course this does not directly correlate with Fairfield University, but what is the disconnect between the quite obvious and deafening athletic school-spirit Prep fosters and the low levels at Fairfield University?
The University seems to be actively trying to adjust this attitude with its construction of the Convocation Center which will provide students with an elevated on-campus opportunity to watch basketball and volleyball, but what will this change for other teams who don’t play their games there?
At the last Red Sea Madness, an event meant to kick off the men’s and women’s basketball seasons, I remember exclusively attending the fall concert with little regard to the basketball teams. I know my friends felt similarly.
Junior Alyssa O’Keefe echoed this sentiment: “I went for the concert and wasn’t super tuned into the pep rally before Fetty Wap performed.”
Will the Convocation Center be enough to change the attitude students have towards athletics on campus?
I’m not really sure.
If Fairfield wants to become a school centered around prominent athletic spirit, the University needs to employ strategies that reflect that and go beyond more than just building a new arena.