February 24, 2011
Where Has the Home Court Advantage Gone?
Pi Kappa Phi
Back in December, I published an article entitled “Football Fans at UCLA Must Step It Up,” where I lamented at the lack of a football culture at UCLA. I contrasted UCLA to the likes of schools including Penn State and Michigan, and concluded that UCLA must put forward the effort to attend each game with the same intensity that they would for a USC game.
Fast forward to February and football season is a distant memory. The experience of the long drive to the Rose Bowl has been supplemented by the far more pleasant walk to Pauley Pavilion. UCLA has long been revered as a “basketball school.” This is very much due to the teams under John Wooden in the 1970s, in addition to the 1996 National Championship team, and the more recent string of 3 consecutive final four appearances under John Wooden. In my football article, I complained that UCLA should become a football school and that starts with the crowd. However, even though UCLA is a “basketball school,” the fans have still disappointed.
When people talk about schools like Duke, they say it is utterly impossible to avoid following the success of the team. College towns like Durham and Chapel Hill (UNC) ebb and flow with their basketball team. They are linked. To me, that is what being a “basketball school” entails. Does UCLA fit these constraints? I would argue no.
The objective of this article is to motivate the students of UCLA to find an interest in their team again. As I have written about several times already, this year’s UCLA team is nowhere close to the elite levels of UCLA teams of the past. However, unlike last year, they are respectable and in a very good position to make post-season play (and I’m not talking about the NIT). Despite the team improvement, the excitement level is lacking, particularly at the games in the student section. That has to change.
Home court advantage. One of the greatest things about schools like Duke and Kansas is that teams are frightened to go and play at their stadiums. The crowds are loud, raucous and intimidating. Decibel levels hit highs, and the home teams are able to feed off the crowd. Do teams feel the same way about UCLA? Absolutely not. Surely Pauley Pavilion is one of the most historic stadiums in all of college basketball, but that’s all it has going right now. When teams visit, they comment on the respect they have for the building, and the honor it is to play there. They don’t speak of the imposing student section. Hell, even when notorious ex-UCLA coach Steve Lavin came to town he remarked about how some of the top seats were empty.
Thus we are brought to the first current problem with UCLA basketball games: attendance. At almost any given game, the top sections of Pauley are empty. While the lower section almost always is at capacity, there is no excuse why a top “basketball school” should have trouble filling the stadium. Listen. I know there is studying. I know we’re in LA. I don’t care. Basketball is on campus. It’s a great time. You are representing your school. Get to the games. If we’re going to call ourselves a basketball school, we better have people who actually care enough to go.
My second problem is tied into the intimidation factor; we don’t really do anything to impose our presence on the opponent. This can be divided into two parts.
The Lack of Intensity
Look up Gonzaga’s “Zombie Nation” pregame chant. Now look up Utah State’s “I Believe” pre-game chant. That is what a basketball school looks like. What do you think is going through the opponent’s head when they see the student section all riled up? They know it’s not their house. What do you think is going on through the home team’s head when they hear their fans going wild? They are getting pumped to play.
What does UCLA have? The Frisbee chant? Look up Utah State’s “Winning Team” chant. That is how you do a Frisbee chant. I don’t care if they stole it from us. It puts our pre-game chant look like a middle school cheer squad. When it is all said and done, we are not an intimidating crowd. Yes, we do our part and jump and yell, but there is a lack of intensity. The crowd seems too transfixed on “spirit” and less on getting crazy, which to me is what crowds should be all about.
Where is the blame to be put? The Daily Bruin ran an article a few weeks back that the “Yell Crew” takes away from the natural feel of cheering at games, but I want to disagree. Schools like Pitt used yell crews to great success. At the end of the day, the blame lies on the students. A very small percentage of the fans are emotionally tied to the game. They were dragged there by friends or had a free night so they wanted to go. True fans feel morally obliged to go to every game. This is our team, and we must start showing we care. Next time 'Zombie Nation' plays on the loud speaker, get a little crazy and start yelling. Next time the opposing team gets the ball do not just yell “Ohhh”: jump up and down. These small things will make a world of a difference, and nothing looks or sounds cooler than a whole student section acting crazily in unison.
The Lack of Witty Heckling
When Steve Lavin returned to UCLA, the only chant we did was a barely audible addition to the Frisbee chants where we reference his nickname “the Lizard of Westwood.” Really? That’s all we can think to do to get back at Lavin. While the win is obviously the most important thing, and some may refer to heckling as childish, as I have argued in my article “Stay Classy $C,” it can add a new dimension to the game.
One of my favorite moments in this year’s season was the CSUN game. A player on their squad hit a 3, and attempted to stare down the UCLA student section. We did not like this. On his subsequent possession, he air balled. Bingo. We now have material. For the rest of the game, any time the guy touched the ball, screams of “air ballll” were heard even on the TV broadcast. That is what a student section should always do: get on the opposing team's case.
While many fans surely do their part yelling profanities, that is not exactly what I’m talking about (again see: Stay Classy $C for my rules of heckling). Even our “left, right” chant isn’t enough. Our “who cares” chants during introductions are plain laughable. We want teams to fear coming into Pauley, and this can be done in ways besides insulting a player’s family (search Maryland and JJ Redick). I personally love “The Dirt” (pregame paper given to student with information on the upcoming opponent). However, we need to find a way to get into an opposing team’s head. What I suggest is that we single out the opposing team’s best player before every game, and make sure to get on him every time he touches the ball. Sure the great players transcend this and perform regardless, but every team should come into Pauley knowing we are not going to take them lightly.
Basically anyone I have ever talked to knows I like to complain about sports…a lot. One of the biggest respon