Culture and athletic identity are always related. In New Zealand, they play rugby; in Canada, hockey. These implanted allegiances to certain sports and certain teams aren’t necessarily based on winning — in Dallas, you’ll see more fans watch the Cowboys take to the gridiron than the Stars hit the ice, no matter the teams’ records.
The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup last season, and media outlets responded by mispronouncing the names of stars Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty as “Kopidor” and “Brad Doty,” respectively, and mistakenly presenting a logo of basketball’s Sacramento Kings on a news broadcast. Considering that the Lakers and Clippers had long since been eliminated from their respective playoffs, one would have thought the Kings would have been given some respect. It didn’t happen.
This discrepancy in popularity is exhibited at the college level to an even greater extent,. Despite the fact that the team hasn’t won more than one NCAA tournament match in a year since 2007, Georgetown men’s basketball gets all the fan attention on campus.
This is a product of culture and tradition, just as it is with Notre Dame or Michigan football — both of which have struggled in recent years.
“Growing up, my family — my dad being an alum — always had season basketball tickets,” Mike Oliver, a Washington native and current Georgetown sophomore, told me. “[My passion for basketball] did not translate to other Georgetown sports. If I had to speculate, I would say it’s mainly because of a lack of exposure at the time and a lack of alumni interest.”
Meanwhile, the Hilltop features two of the top soccer teams in the country, but, at least as far as attendance goes, few people have seemed to notice. When the then-No. 3 men’s team played then-No. 2 Connecticut, there were plenty of empty seats to see the men’s team at North Kehoe Field, which boasts a capacity of only 1,474. Meanwhile, the Huskies themselves regularly sell out their 5,100-seat stadium.
The Blue and Gray men’s team sits No. 6 in the country; the women’s team is No. 14. Meanwhile, the men’s basketball team isn’t expected to be a top-25 team this year — although the same was said before last season — yet the Verizon Center will be rocking on opening day nevertheless.
There are those that will claim that this is just the way things are and cite sports such as sailing, at which Georgetown thrives. Regattas will probably never be highly attended, but soccer isn’t sailing.
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world — the most played and the most attended. Even North America’s Major League Soccer has been growing in popularity, recently surpassing the NBA and NHL in attendance per game. It’s the beautiful game, and it is an exciting spectacle to watch, even if — or maybe because — there isn’t scoring every 30 seconds.
Georgetown has the American U-20 national team keeper in sophomore Tomas Gomez and one of the best freshmen in the country in striker Brandon Allen. It’s a team that will compete for a national title, and it’s a lot closer for students than Verizon Center.
Allen, who leads the Big East in goals, will undoubtedly be a top MLS draft pick in 2014, at which point he will likely see crowds as large as 50,000 people. Sophomore midfielder Daphne Corboz, the star of the women’s team, may have a future with the US women’s national team and may compete at future Olympics.
It’s a shame, however, that we can’t prepare these incredible talents for their careers to come with the kinds of crowds they — and their entire teams — deserve. They may not be as well known on campus as basketball players like sophomore forward Otto Porter and junior point guard Markel Starks, but they should be.
There is a chance to turn this around. If either of these teams manages to come close to a national title this season, we can hope the whole campus will be behind them.