If the University of Richmond and its basketball team want to boost student attendance, the solution might be to allow the fraternities to open their lodges for tailgating before games.
On Saturday, Feb. 21, the men's basketball game set the season-high for student attendance. Before the game, some of the fraternity lodges were open from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
According to Jana Ross, assistant director of athletics/marketing and fan development, Saturday evening's game was the second-most attended of the season, with 7,059 people in attendance. But the 574 Richmond students at the game represented a season-high for student attendance, she said.
Justine Gorman, a senior cheerleader, was amazed by the size of the crowd.
"It was definitely one of the largest student turnouts I have seen this season," Gorman said. "I heard a lot of positive feedback from other students about having the lodges open before a game, and several people said they wished the athletic department and administration had thought of this earlier in the season."
Head coach Chris Mooney said the home crowd had had a big impact on the team and its players' morale on Saturday, when Richmond defeated the University of Charlotte, 65-58.
"In college basketball, more than any other sport, the home crowd impacts the game," Mooney said. "It was a great idea to have the lodges open before the game. We had more fans and it really made a difference in the game, especially toward the end."
Marcus Jenkins, director of basketball operations, said it wasn't just the large crowd that affected the environment in the Robins Center, but the presence of students.
"Five hundred students in the Robins Center is different than just 500 people in the Robins Center," Jenkins said. "Students bring a different kind of energy with them, most of which is contagious for the average fan. From a player perspective, you're always a bit more pumped-up to play in front of your peers. Hopefully, the trend of more students at our games will continue."
Andrew Prezioso, a freshman who has attended many of the team's games this season, said this had been one of the loudest games he had been to.
Dan Warhola, a senior member of Kappa Alpha Order, thought the tailgating at the lodges had boosted fan attendance, he said.
"The lodges definitely helped," Warhola said. "We had about 25 to 30 guys at the game, and it looked like most of the other fraternities and sororities were present too. The attendance as a whole looked more crowded than usual."
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Warhola added that many of the fraternity's alumni had participated in the tailgate and attended the basketball game.
But not all students who went to the lodges attended the game.
Hakan Oztap, a junior, thought it was a great idea to open the lodges on a Saturday afternoon. But he said he did not attend the basketball game. In fact, many of his friends and students he knew went home after the lodges closed, he said.
Charles Parsons, a junior and member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, said there was a large turnout of other members and friends at the lodges. He added that most brothers and many of the guests at the Sig Ep lodge attended the game.
Max Vest, director of student activities, said there was no way to definitively determine the precise number of students who attended the lodges.
The Office of Student Activities and Greek Life coordinated the event. The school gave fraternities the opportunity to open their lodges during the day to promote the basketball game and get more students to attend the game, Ross said.
"This is an idea we have been working on for quite some time," Ross said. "It is an idea to create a fun event around basketball and to encourage more students to come out to basketball games."
Fraternities could only register for one lodge party, either Saturday afternoon or Saturday evening, said Joe Cutrona, treasurer of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. Although he liked the idea of opening the lodge during the afternoon, Cutrona felt a sense of coercion from the university administration because the frats only had two options for lodge events last weekend, he said.
Warhola said he liked the idea of tailgating on a weekend afternoon.
"The time slot worked well because Saturday afternoons are sometimes slow," Warhola said. "It was a good way to get all the brothers out together with some alumni when everyone is not incredibly busy. Once football moves on campus, I think this format will work well for the tailgates before games."
University officials intend to have more of these events in the future, Ross said.
"We think this is something that the students really enjoyed," Ross said. "And something that with the help of the student life and Greek life offices, we can continue to do for several basketball games next year."
But Vest is uncertain of whether there will be more events in the future, he said. This will ultimately be up to the athletic department and Greek Life, he said.
Many years ago, tailgating at the lodges before basketball games was a regular activity, Vest said. But because of disciplinary issues, it was ended. Vest has still not received any negative feedback from Saturday's event, he said.
In all, four of the six fraternities opened their lodges on Saturday afternoon. In addition to FIJI, KA and Sig Ep, Sigma Alpha Epsilon opened its lodge.
Alison Bartel Keller, director for Greek Life and associate director of student activities, was not available for comment.
Rumors circulated that the event was coordinated to help prepare the school and administration for the 2010 football season, when the new on-campus stadium will host all games.
But Ross said the idea had nothing to do with the stadium. She said: "all events we have can help us learn how things will operate in 2010 when we do have football games here."
The most attended game at Richmond this season was against Virginia Commonwealth University (7,182 in attendance) on Dec. 13. The previous high for student attendance this season was 545 for the first home game, against Randolph-Macon College on Nov. 15.
Contact reporter Nick Mider at firstname.lastname@example.org
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