Richmond students don't care about Richmond sports. It's a statement I hear at least weekly, if not more frequently, and I'm sick of it. The reason, however, may surprise you. I am sick of it because, for the large majority of the student body, it's true. Stop complaining about it.
It's not that Richmond students are so addicted to drinking and smoking pot that they refuse to come out to games. And it certainly isn't that, as one man put it in a response to a Richmond Times-Dispatch article, "Richmond's student body is a bunch of snotty rich-kid jerks who don't care enough to see the very best." I'm a member of that student body and I'll be honest -- I don't skip basketball games because I'm a snotty rich-kid jerk.
So why do so few Richmond fans go to games? Let's take the blame off the fans for a second and move it in another direction.
Mike London, our head football coach, is one of the most beloved figures on campus. He came to Playfair during orientation and told our students that he was there for us. That he was dedicated to Richmond not just as a coach to 50-some odd players, but as a member of our community. He came to D-Hall, he was visible on campus and he was the kind of guy I wanted coaching my football team. Notice that "my." Even when the football team was 4-3 after a heartbreaking loss to James Madison University, it still felt like my team. That's why the National Championship run was so special. It really felt like it was my team I was watching. Maybe that explains why many more student fans made the eight-hour trip to Chattanooga than attend a typical men's basketball game.
Chris Mooney, the head basketball coach, is a shadow on this campus. He's like a law school student-- you know he's there, but he's kind of mysterious and distant (Sorry, law students). Most of the people on campus probably don't even know who he is. And, when asked about the lack of attendance at games, he responded with "no comment." Real gutsy there, coach. Sure, London's personality only got him a modest increase in fans at first, but right now wouldn't that help?
And how about Mooney on the court? He may employ the most boring style of basketball I have ever watched. Granted, I am not by any means a basketball expert, but I know that, in a lot of cases, athletes win games (i.e. LeBron James and Kobe Bryant). We have athletes on our team, we just don't use them. Junior David Gonzalvez, one of those exceptional athletes, almost transferred after his freshman year because the offense moved so slowly. Sure, maybe to the basketball purist this style of play is fun to watch, but it certainly isn't ideal for your average college students.
And it isn't exactly working. Sure, we're competitive in the Atlantic 10, but who is going to be excited by that? The first two Richmond basketball games I ever went to were home losses to Norfolk State University and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Really? Let's remember that students don't come to Richmond because of our sports programs, so unless you put out an entertaining product, you're going to hear crickets.
In the most highly attended game of this season, a televised game against Virginia Commonwealth University, on the day of the national football semifinal at the University of Northern Iowa, which, at the time, was the most important football game in the history of the university, Mooney and the Spiders lost a game which they led almost throughout. They blew a late-game lead and disappointed a crowd that was ready for what could have been the one day when Richmond sports took center stage. Instead, fans filed out of the Robins Center after that game, leaving only a smattering of people to watch the semifinal football game on the big screens. I'm not saying a team should be judged on one loss, because that's not fair for anyone, but when Mooney and the team had the chance to impress the crowd and excite the campus, they lost a close game ... again.
So here is my advice for those people who continue to whine about the lack of attendance: Give me a better product. I know the student-athletes on this team, and others at Richmond, work extremely hard and are incredibly talented. We should support them no matter what, but that's not how the real world works. With the exception of the die-hards who fill maybe two sections in the Robins Center every game, people will not come to watch a boring, slow-it-down style of play that doesn't produce wins over quality opponents. Maybe if Mooney spiced things up a little bit, on or off the court, people would want to come watch. Or maybe, if he let his star players be the athletes they are, they could turn into the dynamic personalities that inspire passion from the school.
Almost everyone on campus loves, or at least knows, Mike London and Kevin Grayson. Way too many people on campus don't even know who Chris Mooney and Justin Harper are (Harper is the team's second-leading scorer). Coach: Grow some personality, have some fun on the basketball court and put on a better show. We want to embrace this team, we just don't have a good reason to right now. In the end, sports are entertainment, and until Mooney and his team develop an identity or make some kind of mark on this campus, students will still prefer beer pong and Boatwright to basketball.
Contact staff writer Reilly Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org
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