The Aggies were down by just 6 points, 14 seconds left on the clock and the ball in the hands of sophomore phenom quarterback Ben Scott. The quarterback had just driven the Aggies 49 yards in five plays that took a total of 37 seconds. Two incomplete passes later, on third down with under 10 seconds to go, Scott threw an interception on a clear miscommunication with his receiver.
These final moments represented one of the most exciting times in a difficult Aggies football season. Scott, in just his second game at home as a starter, made it obvious throughout the day that he was the quarterback of the future. Still, the crowd was nearly silent as the young leader almost pulled off an improbable comeback. Under 6,000 people had come to the game that day, only barely above half of the capacity of Aggie Stadium.
For the past four seasons, the time that most UC Davis seniors have been on campus, attendance at football games has plummeted. While there are obvious struggles on the field, it is important to note that UC Davis Athletics simply has not done an adequate job of creating a lively football atmosphere.
The average attendance at a football game four years ago, minus games when no students were in town, was 9,192 people. This year? 6,752. No game in the 2011 season had attendance as low as 7,152, which is the most people to come to a game this season. Arguments can be made that this is simply due to the poor product that the football team has put on the field. Fellow Big Sky Conference school Weber State, however, averaged an attendance of 8,504 people this year despite finishing 2-10 and in second-to-last place in 2012 and 2013. Meanwhile, our conference rival Cal Poly has averaged 8,954 guests at each game with a student population over a third smaller than that of UC Davis.
I grew up and went to high school in San Luis Obispo, Calif., where Cal Poly football reigns supreme. Throughout the city, there is genuine excitement and pride for the school’s football program and the town is usually buzzing on game days. Even as somebody whose allegiance has clearly turned against Cal Poly, I far prefer catching a game at the Alex G. Spanos Stadium. This year, in the Battle of the Golden Horseshoe, a man landed on the field with a giant American flag to start a game that over 10,000 people came out to see. At Aggie Stadium, you simply won’t find anything like that.
I’ve heard Athletic Director Terrence Tumey speak several times and he generally touches on the importance of UC Davis creating a gameday product that rivals that of Division I programs. Still, I have yet to see any improvements since he took over. Under “Athletics; Marketing, Promotions, and Aggie Pack,” on the athletics directory, there are only three full-time positions listed with two additional interns. The remainder of this task falls to Aggie Pack student interns who, while doing a commendable job, simply should not be heading this expansive undertaking. The assistant athletic director of marketing, meanwhile, has been in charge for a number of years and has accompanied the attendance downfall of the past four seasons.
A large percentage of student fees goes into UC Davis Athletics, one way or another. A portion of the $549 per year for the “Campus Expansion Initiative,” goes toward athletic awards for Division I play, part of the $404 for “Facilities and Campus Enhancement,” went to the building of Schaal Aquatic Center and Aggie Stadium, while some of the $344 for “Student Activities and Services,” goes to intercollegiate sports and the Pavilion.
It is time that UC Davis Athletics puts effort into increasing the outreach to both students and the larger Davis community while making games a more enjoyable experience. Students put a significant amount of their yearly fees into athletics and are simply not receiving anything in return. If UC Davis wants to begin to compete at a Division I level, as Tumey has stated, they must realize that they are not living up to those expectations with the way that they are currently operating. They must adapt their organization in order to change the atmosphere throughout the UC Davis and Davis communities. We, as students, are being robbed of a quintessential college experience in pride and excitement for our athletics and deserve the changes that they must make.
Share how you feel about how UC Davis Athletics is doing with Sports Editor Ryan Reed at firstname.lastname@example.org.